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Imagine you would like to move, but you are being told that you cannot. This is more or less the situation the European Parliament has been facing over the last couple of years. This month, the Constitutional Affairs Committee of the European Parliament called for a revision of the EU treaties in order to allow the European Parliament to determine its seat. The official seat of the European Parliament is situated in Strasbourg, France. However, Parliament plenary sessions only take place twelve times per year, once per month in the city of Strasbourg with most work of the Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) and its staff being done in Brussels.
The European Parliament’s Constitutional Affairs Committee decision taken this month has no legal effect and will not gain any once it has been approved by the next European Parliament’s plenary session in November. It is rather to be seen as a reiterated attempt to draw attention to the issue of the so called constant ‘travelling circus’ from Brussels to Strasbourg once a month and the financial, organisational, logistical and environmental costs this entails. According to a draft report of the European Parliament on the issue of the seats of the European institutions, the geographical dispersion of the European Parliament’s seats amounts to costs between EUR 169 and EUR 204 million annually (i.e. 10 % of the EP’s annual budget) with an estimated amount of up to 19 000 tonnes of CO2 emissions for the monthly transport of MEPs, officials, staff and documents.
To add to the confusion, the secretariat of the European Parliament, which functions as the administrative office of the Parliament, is located in Luxembourg, creating thus an institution with three different locations in three different countries – indeed quite European. The newly launched attempt to call for a Treaty change is only one among a list of initiatives and measures in the past such as the launch of the campaign Single Seat backed by a number of European Parliament MEPs. According to the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union only the governments of the member states of the EU can determine the seat(s) of the EU institutions. This, however, must be done unanimously – a currently unlikely scenario with France and Luxembourg insisting on their ‘share’ of the European Parliament’s seat.