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The traveling circus of the European Parliament

The EU is known for its excessive bureaucracy. One example of this is that the European Parliament is actually based in three different cities: Strasbourg, Brussels and Luxembourg.

Flags of the EU nations fly in front of the European Parliament in Brussels

The European Parliament in Brussels

"I personally think that this parliament, with its 40 weeks of sessions, should not be additionally burdened with this whole traveling circus," said Michael Gahler, EU parliamentarian and member of Germany's Christian Democratic Union party (CDU). Gahler said he believes that with so many pressing issues, the parliamentarians cannot afford to waste time traveling.

More seats, more costs, more work

The European Parliament in Strasbourg

Strasbourg is the official seat of the Parliament

Many parliamentarians and EU citizens have the same opinion. There has been much debate in recent years about whether the European Parliament really needs to have three locations. The official headquarters are in Strasbourg, France, but this parliament building is only used 48 days of the year -- for plenary sessions. All other plenary, committee and faction meetings take place in Brussels, Belgium. The largest part of the Parliament's administration, the Secretariat, is based in Luxembourg.

"We find this very inconvenient and expensive," EU parliamentarian Wolf Klinz said. Moving locations throughout the year costs around 200 million euros ($284 million), Klinz explained, and does not make the work any easier.

"We are in favor of only having a base in Brussels," Klinz said. His party, the Free Democratic Party (FDP) of Germany, is demanding the parliament's complete relocation to Brussels, putting a stop to what he also termed a "traveling circus."

A lot of support for the one-location option

Once a month, all 785 EU parliamentarians and 3,000 staff members travel from Brussels to Strasbourg for a plenary session, and then back again. According to critics, this not only drains finances, but also creates 20,000 tons of carbon emissions. This is why parliament members from various factions started the One Seat campaign in 2006, with the aim of moving all parliament activities to Brussels.

EU Parlementarian Udo Bullmann

Udo Bullmann: "No more separation from Brussels"

1.25 million EU citizens have also signed the One Seat campaign petition on the Internet. But why Brussels rather than Strasbourg?

Udo Bullmann, EU parliamentarian and member of Germany's Social Democratic Party (SPD), explained: "We as the Parliament need proximity to the Commission and the Council. We cannot afford to travel hundreds of kilometers."

Strasbourg is not a feasible option because the other political bodies have their seat in Brussels, according to Bullmann.

Strasbourg a symbol of European unity

But it is not as simple as it sounds. Strasbourg is place of historical importance for Europe. The city symbolizes French-German reconciliation after World War II and the beginning of European unification. In 1997 EU member states were united in the decision to make Strasbourg the official seat of the Parliament. Up until now, all attempts to change this have been stymied by France's resistance.

According to Gahler, there should be more public pressure to force France and Luxembourg to alter their position on the topic. "It's a question of time, but in the future I would like to see the Parliament not providing so much room for attacks on itself. Because almost every visitor group that I meet, someone raises this question, and I'm forced to say that I don't agree with the current situation."

What will become of Strasbourg?

Luxembourg city's old town skyline

The Parliament's secretariat has its seat in Luxembourg

However, among European conservatives, Michael Gahler represents a minority opinion. On the French side there is great concern about losing something meaningful if the EU parliament were not officially based in Strasbourg.

But the Council of Europe and the European Court of Human Rights, both important, non-EU, international bodies, would still remain in Strasbourg. And there are many ideas for making up such a move to France.

A European university, a European diplomatic academy and a concentration of European jurisdiction are just some of the new possibilities for Strasbourg. However, any changes of this sort require the agreement of all 27 EU member states, including, of course, France and Luxembourg. Thus there is a good chance that the European Parliament will continue to have three locations for some years to come.

Nina Funke-Kaiser / ew

Editor: Trinity Hartman

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