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Strasbourg will remain EU capital, France vows

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Strasbourg will remain EU capital, France vows
Members of the European Parliament are forced to decamp every month from Brussels to Strasbourg for voting sessions. Photo: Frederick Florin/AFP
08:41 CEST+02:00
France would never allow Strasbourg to be stripped of its status as a European capital, President Francois Hollande said on Sunday, despite the huge cost of shuttling EU politicians there from Brussels each month.

"Never will France authorize any modification of any kind," Hollande said as he signed new agreements providing close to €1 billion ($1.1 billion) to the city and the surrounding region of Alsace.

Members of the European Parliament are forced to decamp every month from Brussels to Strasbourg for voting sessions -- a tradition enshrined in the earliest European Union treaties.

The "travelling circus", as some call it, costs taxpayers an estimated €114 million ($125 million) a year, according to an assessment by the European Court of Auditors last year.

Between 3,000 and 4,000 people, including around 800 members of parliament and their administrative staff and translators, make the journey for one week every month.

They use their Strasbourg offices only 317 days per year, but the parliament building still requires 100 full-time staff to keep it running.

Two express trains are chartered to carry officials, and several thousand boxes full of documents have to be transported by a courier agency.

Although many MEPs dislike the disruption, and fear the waste fuels voter distrust, it is unlikely to change.

Shifting the seat of parliament permanently to Brussels would require unanimous support from all 28 members of the EU, and would certainly be blocked by France which fiercely protects the prestige and financial benefits that come with hosting the sessions.

However in November 2013 a sign of the growing support for the parliament to be based permanently in Brussels was seen clearl when MEPs adopted a text by 483 votes to 141 that backs changing the European Union treaty to allow the parliament itself, rather than member states, to decide on where it sits. 

READ ALSO: Why the EU parliament must stay in Strasbourg

Paris saw that vote as a step in the wrong direction and French MEP Philippe Boulland has slammed the move but told The Local at the time that it had nothing to do with his nationality and all to do with reconciliation.

“It is not just because I am French that I am against the move. Yes many French MEPs are against the idea of leaving Strasbourg, because it is a city that is symbolic of reconciliation in Europe," he said.

“This is a city on the border between France and Germany, who not so long ago were in a conflict with each other.

"Strasbourg is a symbol of their reconciliation and it is appropriate the parliament is here because France and Germany were the two founders of the united Europe and they are the two driving forces behind the EU.

It’s also important to have a diversity in the locations of the institutions of the EU and not have them all centred in Brussels.

The new investments signed by Hollande on Sunday -- part of a funding programme that dates back to 1980 -- were focused on transport, energy, research and innovation, digital services and culture.

Strasbourg also hosts the European Court of Human Rights and several other institutions.

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