By Martin Banks - 16th February 2012
One seat would be better
Parliament's new president Martin Schulz has given tacit support to calls for the scrapping of the assembly's controversial two-seat arrangement.
His comments that "one seat would be better" were welcomed by the so-called 'OneSeat' campaign as crucial in highlighting the need to end parliament's "travelling circus" between Brussels and Strasbourg.
In a translated interview with the newspaper Luxemburger Wort, published on 23 February, Schulz, a German MEP, was asked where he stands on the seat debate.
He said, "For me there is no debate about Luxembourg being home to the general secretariat and translation. The two meeting places are highly debated issues which have followed me since the 1980s since I've been an MEP.
"Parliament must respect the treaties. In the EU treaties the seat issue is quite clear: The official seat of parliament is Strasbourg. The reality that we meet in various places causes debate."
He pointed out that, currently, a case has been taken to the European court of justice (ECJ) by France and Luxembourg against a decision of parliament not to meet twice in autumn but to condense these two weeks into one.
He added, "In the eyes of France and Luxembourg this is a breach of the treaties. I am awaiting the result of the court case because I think a lot of further steps hang on this.
"Until then the two-seat arrangement as set out in the treaty remains valid. Whoever wants to change it needs a treaty change. If this were to come one would have to decide for one seat. I am myself for one seat. Whether Strasbourg or Brussels, one will see at the end. But one seat would be better."
While Simone Weil, parliament's first president in 1979, described her 'stupeur' at the arrangement in a 2007 book, Schulz is the first president to call for a single seat while still in office.
Parliament is forced by EU governments to meet four days a month in Strasbourg, 400km away from Brussels.
Last month, EU budget commissioner Janusz Lewandowski wrote to parliament asking it to "make all possible efforts towards limiting expenditure [...] to demonstrate that the European institutions are acting responsibly in the light of the difficult economic and budgetary conditions in member states and to send a corresponding signal to European public opinion".
In a resolution on the EU's future budget in June 2011, an absolute majority of MEPs (373 - 285) voted in favour of a single seat to economise.
The single seat campaign is preparing a European 'citizens' initiative, from April which ensures an official response from the commission if more than one million EU citizens sign up.
Edward McMillan-Scott, co-chairman of single seat and spokesman on the Citizens' Initiative for ALDE, said, "I am pleased that the new president has come down in favour of a single seat even though his previously declared preference is for a single seat in Strasbourg, for historic reasons.
"The pollution, cost, inefficiency and remoteness of this travelling circus are indefensible.
"The 1.27 million people who signed up to the OneSeat petition in 2007, calling for parliament to be located only in Brussels, have been ignored by the EU. But Europe's public today cannot be ignored against a backdrop of economic crisis and pressing environmental concerns."
German MEP Alexander Alvaro, chairman of OneSeat, said, "MEPs have shown by their votes that they want to stop the monthly commute to Strasbourg.
"Last March, we voted to cut one week there out of our 2012 and 2013 calendars and in June an absolute majority of MEPs, 373 - 285, voted for a single seat to save costs.
"It is time that MEPs were given the opportunity to decide their own working arrangements, and be allowed to represent the wishes of their constituents who want an end to this travelling circus."