As European Parliament elections emerge on the horizon, an MEP from the Eastern Counties is calling for fellow politicians to ‘stand up to the French’ and stop the once-a-month trip to the additional parliament in Strasbourg.
Since its inception, the vast majority of parliamentary sessions take place in the main EU parliament building in Brussels, but once every month 766 MEPs, 3,000 staff and 25 trucks carrying documents and equipment all decamp to Strasbourg in France to sit there for four days.
So far, moves to stop the unnecessary haul to Strasbourg have been resisted by many member states, for fear of upsetting the French but on Monday, in signs that the arguments for abolishing the trek are gaining traction, the Parliament’s Committee for Constitution Affairs approved a report condemning the practice and putting the annual cost at £131m.
Voting at the meeting to end the Strasbourg sessions, Conservative MEP for the Eastern Counties, David Campbell Bannerman said: “One of the major concerns citizens have about the EU at the moment is the cost and the waste, and this kind of scenario illustrates that they have every right to be concerned.
“There has never been any logical reason for these monthly trips to Strasbourg, other than not to fall out with our French colleagues.
“The costs are hugely disproportionate considering we only really use it a quarter of the time.
“I understand why the French members don’t want to see an end to the sessions in Strasbourg, but we have to be responsible and practical, not emotional.
“The British public won’t thank us for letting this waste of millions of pounds a year continue purely because it is ‘what we have always done.’”
The report put before the committee had been jointly authored by Tory MEP Ashley Fox and German Green MEP Gerald Hafner. It focused on the economic and environmental costs of the dual-seat system, as well as the weight of public sentiment which is deeply opposed. The present arrangement is simply unsustainable, it argued.
Mr Campbell Bannerman added: “Strasbourg is a delightful, historic city which tourists should visit, but we’ve got to end this political circus.
“It’s not just the difficult and expensive travel that causes problems, (even Air France have abandoned regular flights) but once we get there we often see that they’ve spent yet more money on the room – a new printer, phone, PC or painting it, all just for four days a month. What is the point?
“It would be put to much better use as a conference centre, even if it was just open for two weeks per month, than this duplicitous facility, that’s only open for three days.
“The debate was a tight battle, but eventually the committee voted to endorse an excellent report in the issue, and I would like to congratulate Ashley Fox for the brilliant work he put into the document.”
A final vote is expected to take place before all of the MEPs in November - in Strasbourg.