I dag är det EuropadagenJan Björklunds nyhetsbrev
Why the Oneseat campaign?
Why the Oneseat campaign?
At every school visit I have made during the last seven years, there has been one question coming back – why does the European Parliament commute between Brussels and Strasbourg every month? My European colleagues in the parliament have the same experience. Everybody, everywhere, no matter how little they know about the European Union and its institutions, they know about the commuting. They have all seen the photographs of the dozens of lorries filled with boxes of paper driving between the two cities. It is a question that has disgraced the European Parliament for a long time, it gives hard working politicians a ridiculous image and it brings huge expenses to the taxpayers. We are the only parliament in the world that has no say over where it sits as this is decided by the member states and written in the Treaties.
The MEPs have been grappling with the Strasbourg seat issue for years. So when commissioner Margot Wallström said that she, in the framework of her plan D (for democracy, dialogue and debate), hopes to see a few citizens' initiatives land at her desk, the idea of letting the Strasbourg issue become subject to a campaign started to grow. The citizen's initiative, as described in the article 47 on participatory democracy in the proposed Constitution, allows for the EU citizens to become more active and to participate on European issues. If any petition collects one million signatures, the commission promises to raise the question. Mrs Wallström's statement that she considers this initiative valid, independently of what happens to the constitution, is to be welcomed. And the Strasbourg issue is something that people care about all over Europe.
It is still unclear what will happen with the constitution but it is likely that there will have to be some kind of rewriting and changes before it can be accepted in all the countries. A new intergovernmental conference might start next year and that would be the moment to discuss all kinds of reforms - including the seat issue. So this is the moment to show what the citizens want and the possibility for the political leaders to show that they listen and care.
The European Union is a fantastic project and it is as a whole a stunning success, but it needs to be reformed and modernised. If the EU is going to be able to deliver results, make decisions and maintain the confidence of the hundreds of millions it represent, it must adopt and get rid of the greatest anomalies. To be forced to travel to a second Parliament 12 times a year for an extra cost of hundreds of millions of Euro a year, is not defensible. The magnificent Strasbourg building is totally empty the rest of the 307 days a year.
Strasbourg is indeed a very important European city as it symbolises the peace between France and Germany. One could off course envisage having the Parliament meeting only in Strasbourg. That is however difficult for a number of reasons. The European parliament today has grown in size and in competencies. It is not possible to be located all year round in Strasbourg, the city is too small and does not have these facilities. Furthermore it is problematic to control the Council and the Commission when they are located in another country. I believe that the European Parliament should play an important role in European decision making, but it suits many ministers fine that the Parliament is not taken seriously by the citizens. From a media perspective it is difficult for many papers/radio/TV channels to afford sending people to Strasbourg every session so we therefore get less attention and scrutiny, which is also bad from a democratic point of view.
I have the greatest respect for this and think that this memory should be honoured by either transforming the Strasbourg Parliament building in to the first real trans-European university with researchers, professors and students from all over the world.
Another alternative would be that all the European council summits were held there, thus guaranteeing the prestige and international importance of the city.
Right now the EU is in a crises still. There are many things we need to do in order to improve the situation. First of all the EU has to deliver results in areas that are important to the citizens. The institutions must be more open, comprehensible and transparent. But we also need to put our own house into order. Many, many people care about the Strasbourg issue and it is important to listen to them.