NEWS | Sunday, 28 September 2008

The travelling circus: Casa and Busuttil torn between Strasbourg and Brussels

Nationalist MEPs vote against scrapping costly Strasbourg seat

Nationalist MEPs David Casa and Simon Busuttil voted against an amendment binding the European Parliament to commit itself on a 1.25 million strong petition calling for an end of the costly monthly plenary sessions in Strasbourg and the full time relocation of the European parliament to Brussels.
Both MEPs favour a single location for the EU parliament, but Casa insists that it is premature to choose between Brussels and Strasbourg as parliament’s only seat. Busuttil insists that it is up to member states and not parliament to change the location of the EU parliament.
The “travelling circus” between the two parliaments sees some 5,000 people, as well as 20 tonnes of documents, make the monthly trek. Estimates suggest the set-up costs around €200 million a year.
According to the amendment proposed by Green MEP David Hammerstein the 1.25 million petitioners “deserve a clear response in the form of Parliament’s own position on the matter and obliged parliament to hold a political debate on this issue.”
The amendment was narrowly rejected by 323 votes against and 302 in favour.
A majority of European People’s Party’s representatives, including Casa and Busuttil, voted against the proposal although 39 EPP members voted in favour. Labour MEP John Attard Montalto voted in favour while Louis Grech abstained.
Both Nationalist MEPs agree with that the European Parliament should have one seat, but they preferred to stick to the original text of the motion which took note of the petition without calling on parliament to take a stand.
A parliamentary decision on this issue is not binding because the EU treaty, which can only be amended by member states, clearly states that EU lawmakers are obliged to meet 12 times a year in the Alsatian capital.
Supporters of the parliament’s French seat argue that it is a symbol of Franco-German reconciliation after World War II.
David Casa presented the case for a one seat parliament in the presence of the Prime Minister. But Casa now justifies voting against the amendment as he does not want to be drawn in the controversy on whether parliament should meet in Brussels or Strasburg,
“At this stage I do not think that we should concentrate on where the seat should be, but rather on the fact that there should be one seat, be it in Brussels or in Strasbourg.”
Simon Busuttil gave procedural reasons for voting against the amendment.
“I voted against this amendment is because there was already a very similar paragraph in the text of the report which was adopted in Committee and the amendment would have added nothing new.”
He also pointed out that original text does not pre-empt the position of the European Parliament on this petition, which still has to be considered.
But Busuttil claims that parliament can still pronounce itself on this issue despite the defeat of the Hammerstein amendment.
“It is obvious that once the parliament’s Petitions Committee considers this petition a position will be adopted. That goes without saying.”
Busuttil also expressed his support for a one seat parliament.
“Regrettably, however, this requires a treaty change and therefore it is up to EU Governments, and not the European Parliament, to determine whether the single seat should be in Strasbourg or in Brussels.”
But Busuttil warned everyone to be careful not to embark on campaigns which sound popular a few months before the European election but which, in fact, “only end up raising public expectations but then delivering nothing”.
The European Parliament’s decision comes in the wake of the collapse of a ceiling in the Strasbourg parliament in August which has now been repaired, costing almost twice as much as expected.
Parliament has directly saved between €3 and 4 million by temporarily holding two plenary sessions in Brussels.
According to Gerard Onesta, the vice-president in charge of the parliament’s buildings, the total costs to repair some 10 tonnes of collapsed material have reached €6.5 million.

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