14th October 2013
The European Parliament is set today (Monday) to take a historic vote, committing itself to work for changes to the EU's treaties in order to scrap the notorious Strasbourg "travelling circus".
The vote is seen as a landmark decision backing a campaign by Conservative MEP Ashley Fox to stop the wasteful two-seat system, which sees parliamentary sittings shuttling back and forth between Belgium and France on a monthly basis.
Mr Fox, Conservative MEP for the South West of England and Gibraltar, is behind a hard-hitting report setting out a roadmap for reform, which will be put before the parliament's Constitutional Affairs Committee today.
He said: "I fervently hope that today's vote will be seen as a real turning point in this long and difficult campaign. It should be the point where MEPs take a stand, align themselves firmly and decisively with the people and with common sense, and say this madness must stop.
His report, drafted jointly with German Green MEP Gerald Hafner, focuses 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 argues, and MEPs should be allowed to decide for themselves where the parliament sits.
Most of the European Parliament's work is done at its huge complex of offices and debating chambers in Brussels, but once a month 766 MEPs, 3,000 staff and 25 trucks carrying documents and equipment all decamp to Strasbourg in France to sit there for three days.
A report by the Parliament Secretary General last week put the annual cost at €102 million, but Conservative MEPs say "invisible" costs such as amortisation of buildings, and money wasted on unused floor space brings the true cost to €156m, or £131m. It also needlessly pumps 20,000 tonnes of carbon into the atmosphere.
Mr Fox said: "Unless something changes this is set to cost taxpayers something approaching a billion pounds over the course of the EU's next seven-year budget programme. Think what else the money could buy in terms of genuine investment to make Europe more competitive and more prosperous.
"Think how foolish the parliament looks when it allows this while lecturing its citizens about climate change."
"How can it be remotely sensible in such challenging times?
"I believe today is the day we start to roll back this nonsense. From here on we take the debate to the Presidents and Premiers in the European Council to help us win the treaty change we need. It will still be a long struggle, but this can be a telling blow for change."