For those who don’t already know the European Parliament actually sits in two places: Brussels in Belgium, and Strasbourg, which straddles the French and German border.
We MEPs spend three weeks every month debating issues in Brussels’ committee rooms before making the 400km trip South to ‘Stras’ for the final week to vote on key policies.
The four day round trip is, to put it mildly, a massive waste of time and money. Thousands of EU staff plus the hundreds of politicians, national representatives and political staff have to be shifted halfway across a country. Special trains are chartered and a fleet of lorries move all the files and hardware. Most wasteful off all are the carbon copy buildings – another Parliament building sits empty for three weeks just waiting to burst frenetically into life for the space of a few days.
It disrupts the work of the Parliament, places huge stress on staff and costs a shocking amount – an estimated £150million a year which does little to improve democracy or the efficiency of EU.
Accusations of EU excess are usually greatly exaggerated but on this occasion it is spot on. It is inefficient, wasteful and embarrassing.
Almost all MEPs agree with me and if it were up to us Stras would go the way of the Dodo. Unfortunately the French have steadfastly refused to budge on the issue which means we are stuck with it for the time being.
This negative aspect should not detract from the positive work that is done in Strasbourg. This month’s session covered (amongst other things) moves to clean up shipping fuel which is currently much dirtier than petrol, beefed up monitoring of pharmaceutical side effects across Europe and efforts to introduce clearer labelling of fish to help consumers and small scale, traditional fisheries.
Good work is done in Strasbourg. It just doesn’t need to be done in Strasbourg. It hasn’t been scrapped yet but pressure is building. Earlier this year the Parliament overwhelming voted (429-184) to ditch the roundtrip and over a million signatures have been collected calling for it to be ditched.
The days of the wandering parliament are numbered.
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Peter Skinner - MEP for the South-East