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‘The EU should not allow the symbol of peace in Europe to become a symbol of waste’

OPINION: It is time to stop moving the EU parliament between Brussels and Strasbourg every month, argues Swedish MEP Anna Maria Corazza Bildt and the Single Seat Steering group.

'The EU should not allow the symbol of peace in Europe to become a symbol of waste'
Anna Maria Corazza Bildt, speaking in the European Parliament on July 5th. Photo: Private

As Members of the European Parliament we time and again are confronted with the same question: why do you accept this carousel of moving the Parliament between Brussels and Strasbourg with all its blatant waste? Time after time emotions go high on this – and rightly so.

It's an old compromise that once located the European Parliament in Strasbourg, although subsequently more and more of its actual day to day work is carried out in Brussels. A protocol to the treaties from 1992 still mandates the Parliament to have session 12 times a year in Strasbourg, and that's where the waste sets in.

And it's not a minor issue. Thousands of people have to be relocated from Brussels to Strasbourg for each of these sessions. Official estimates talk of a cost of at least €114 million annually and that the traveling circus contributes 19,000 tonnes to CO2 emissions every year.

For the EU to be credible we need to be consistent. We must practice what we preach. We also have a responsibility to not let the issue of the seat fall into the hands of populists who use it against the EU.

As elected members of the European Parliament we are powerless to change this, but we have the power to ask the member states for Treaty change under art. 48 of the TEU, for the Parliament to decide on its seat. Year after year we have voted with large majorities to end this wasteful circus, but so far to no avail.

The “Single Seat Campaign” has broad support across party groups and nations. We want a European Parliament more efficient, less polluting and less costly, closer to citizens. We are for democracy, for Europe, for dialogue. Our goal is for the Parliament to decide on when and where to meet.

Strasbourg is indeed a symbol of peace and reconciliation, for us and generations to come, but this powerful symbol is by no means a function of the European Parliament meeting there monthly. If institutions are necessary for the symbolism, this delightful city is already seat of both the Council of Europe and the European Court of Human Rights. It also hosts the common French-German army brigade.

The EU should not allow a symbol of peace in Europe to become a symbol of waste.

We have a duty to our citizens to see that the EU budgets are spent in the wisest way possible, and with budgets getting increasingly tight with the exit of the United Kingdom, there is simply no way in which anyone can defend this meaningless commute of the European Parliament.

This July was important in that the European Parliament for the first time set a debate on its seats in its plenary session, reflecting the increasing pressure on the issue.

The painful process of Brexit will force us to reconsider many issues, notably the budgetary ones. But it must also make us more alert to the concerns of our citizens on issues of wasteful spending and unnecessary bureaucracy.

It also opens up issues related to the location of different EU bodies, and in this process there might well be new opportunities to find solutions acceptable to all – also to France – in order to get a resolution of this issue. We hope, for example, that France will ask for the important European Medicines Agency, based in London, to be located in Strasbourg.

The Single Seat Campaign is presently drawing up an Action Plan looking at the different possibilities of moving this important issue further.

The European Parliament is gradually becoming more and more important. In recent years, statesmen from all over the world have come to address its 752 members, and through them the peoples of Europe. It should also not be forgotten that it has co-legislative powers with the EU governments in the Council of Ministers.

The efficiency of the Parliament clearly calls for an end to the circus, but so does our firm responsibility to the taxpayers and our will to reconnect with the citizens of Europe. There are many things we should spend money on – but certainly not on this wasteful exercise. The European Parliament deserves one seat – and it should be in Brussels.

Of course, the key player is France. Any realistic option should provide France with both economic and political benefits. We are reaching out to France with a positive attitude and offer to engage in a constructive dialogue to find win-win solutions for a better Europe closer to citizens.

Anna Maria Corazza Bildt (EPP, Sweden), on behalf of the Single Seat Steering group.

Vice Chairs Pina Picierno (S&D, Italy), Ashley Fox (ECR, UK), Beatriz Becerra (ALDE, Spain), Dennis De Jong (GUE-NGL, Netherlands) and Ulrike Lunacek (Greens-EFA, Austria).

TRAVEL NEWS

‘We will be ready’ vows France, amid fears of UK border chaos

Transport bosses have raised fears of long queues in British ports when the EU's new EES system comes into effect next year, but French border officials insist they will be ready to implement the new extra checks.

'We will be ready' vows France, amid fears of UK border chaos

The EU’s new EES system comes into effect in 2023 and many people – including the boss of the Port of Dover and the former UK ambassador to France – have raised concerns that the extra checks will lead to travel chaos on the UK-France border, and see a repeat of the long queues experienced last summer.

Port of Dover CEO Doug Bannister told The Local that he feared “tailbacks out of the port and throughout Kent” because the new system could take up to 10 minutes to process a car with four passengers, as opposed to 90 seconds currently.

EXPLAINED What the EES system means for travel to France in 2023

But French border control have insisted that they will be ready, replying to questions from the European Commission with “Oui, La France sera prête” (yes, France will be ready).

French officials said they had already undertaken extension preparation and would begin test runs of the new system in French border posts at the end of this year.

document shared recently by the secretariat of the EU Council (the EU institution representing member states) and published by Statewatch, a non-profit organisation that monitors civil liberties, shows how countries are preparing. 

“France has prepared very actively and will be on schedule for an EES implementation in compliance with the EU regulation,” French authorities say.

“The French authorities have carried out numerous studies and analyses, in cooperation with infrastructure managers, to map passenger flows at each border crossing post… and evaluate the EES impact on waiting times,” the document says. 

However, despite the preparation, the French admit that long waits at the border remain a worry, adding: “the prospect of the impact of EES on waiting times at the borders worries infrastructure managers. The fact remains that fluidity remains a concern, and that exchanges are continuing with each border post manager to make progress on this point.”

The EES system is due to come into effect in May 2023 and will be applied at all EU external borders – find full details on how it works HERE.

However there has been particular concern about the France-UK border due to three things; the high volume of traffic (in total over 60 million passengers cross the border each year); the fact that many travel by car on ferries and the Eurotunnel (while the EES system seems more designed with foot passengers in mind); and the Le Touquet agreement which means that French border control agents work in the British ports of Dover and Folkestone and at London St Pancras station.

EES is essentially a more thorough passport checking process with passengers required to provide biometric information including fingerprints and facial scans – border checks will therefore take longer per passenger, and this could have a big effect at busy crossing points like Dover.

The UK’s former ambassador to France, Lord Ricketts, told The Local: “I think the EES, in particular, will be massively disruptive at the Channel ports.”

The EU consultation documents also revealed more details of how EES will work on a practical level for car passengers – those travelling by ferry or Eurotunnel to France – with border agents set to use computer tablets to gather biometric information like fingerprints so that passengers don’t have to get out of their cars.

READ ALSO France to use iPads to check biometric data of passengers from UK

Doug Bannister added that Dover agents were “awaiting an invitation” to France to see how the new systems will work. 

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