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Europe

EU parliamentarians see no need for Strasbourg sessions, report claims

Most European Parliament members want an end to the practice of meeting in both Brussels and Strasbourg, a survey indicates. Opponents of the two-city system want Belgium's capital to be the legislature's sole venue.

Flags outside European Parliament building, Strasbourg, France

The Strasbourg venue holds several sessions each month

A survey of members of the European Parliament has revealed that 91 percent believe that the legislature should only meet in Brussels.

"It is clear that, given a free choice, most members of the European Parliament today would choose Brussels, where the Parliament already conducts most of its work," said the report, which was issued by members of the parliament on Thursday.

People of the bridge over the Rhine in Strasbourg

Strasbourg, on France's River Rhine border with Germany, is seen by some as symbolic

"In today's climate the economic and environmental cost of two seats can no longer be justified," said vice-president of the 736-seat assembly, British MEP Edward McMillan-Scott. "The two-seat arrangement is an anachronism."

The status of Strasbourg, the former full-time home of the parliament, stems from its post-World War II legacy. The city is situated on the Franco-German border, on the Rhine River, and France maintains that it is symbolic of peace at the heart of Europe. Paris is firmly opposed to any change that would take the legislature away from the city.

Concession to France

Although most working sessions take place in Brussels, Strasbourg currently hosts four full parliamentary sessions each month under a concession granted to France in 1992.

The need for parliamentarians and their staff to travel between the two cities is a long standing source of controversy, and is widely criticized as a waste of time and money.

Those sentiments were echoed in the report by EU Internal Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom, who rejected the need for parliament to have two seats. "It is a question that had disgraced the European parliament for a long time," said Malmstrom. "It gives hard-working politicians a ridiculous image and it brings huge expenses to the taxpayers."

Repeated campaigns to change system

According to official estimates, the cost of travelling between Brussels and Strasbourg - for 750 MEPs and thousands of their staff - amounts to some 200 million euros ($ 272 million) each year. Another perceived source of inefficiency and inconvenience is the siting of parliamentary offices in a third city, Luxembourg.

EU Internal Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom

Malmstrom said the two-city system was a 'disgrace'

There have been repeated campaigns to change the system, but this would require all 27 EU states – including France - to approve the move.

For the survey, a total of 2,260 delegates and their assistants were invited to respond electronically to questions, with 417 persons, including 61 delegates taking part.

The practice of having two seats has also been criticized from an environmental viewpoint, as it is thought to produce 20,000 tons of additional carbon dioxide emissions.

Author: Richard Connor (AFP, dpa)
Editor: Susan Houlton

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