'No trips to Strasbourg without good reason'

22 December 2009

'No trips to Strasbourg without good reason'

Since first represented in the European Parliament, the SP has participated in a regular meeting of Dutch Euro-MPs of all parties, the so-called ‘Oranjeberaad’, the ‘Orange Consultation’ (orange being the national colour). Each party has of course its own views, but in addition we are all Dutch and there are some national interests which we can, in my opinion, best defend together.

The European Parliament in Strasbourg || photo: wikipedia/ advance

During the first Oranjeberaad which I attended, in November, I proposed that as Dutch Euro-MPs we should be making serious proposals to put an end to the monthly move from Brussels to Strasbourg. According to the EU Treaty, the European Parliament is obliged to meet once a month in Strasbourg, despite the fact that facilities sufficient for any and all meetings are available in Brussels. A strange business, and one moreover which costs hundreds of millions of euros a year. In the election campaign, hardly any Euro-MPs had a good word for this system, and they were right. Yet once the votes were counted, things went surprisingly quiet.

And so I proposed that NATO should move to Strasbourg and, from then on, that the EP should hold all of its meetings in Brussels. Then Sarkozy would still have an international organisation on his territory, hotels and restaurants in Strasbourg would still have plenty of customers, and everyone would be happy. During the Oranjeberaad, however, there turned out to be little support for the idea: the right-wing VVD didn’t want to see NATO banished to such a ‘provincial town’, which I had seen as a positive advantage now that the Iron Curtain is no more and the NATO’s original purpose, defending western Europe from the Soviet Union, has lapsed. And what’s more, isn’t Strasbourg one of the symbols of peace in Europe? Countless wars have been fought between the French and Germans over the possession of this city and its surrounding area, so it could hardly be more symbolic. Others pointed to the fact that NATO is in the process of building new headquarters in Brussels, and that NATO buildings demand special security arrangements. In short, the meeting didn’t go all that smoothly.

On the other hand, everyone was happy to agree that the matter should be put on the agenda for the following meeting. Although the European Parliament cannot decide for itself where it meets, it would of course send an important message to the Dutch government were all Euro-MPs from the Netherlands to demand that a creative solution be found, one which would keep the French happy while putting an end to the monthly move. Unfortunately, no such solution has yet been proposed, and so no message has been sent to the government. Still, the meeting wasn’t a complete waste of time. Eventually all of the Dutch MEPs gave their approval to a letter to be sent to the President of the European Parliament making it clear that we felt that the December Strasbourg Plenary was too low on real content to justify setting aside a whole week, which includes the two days it takes to get there and back. The January agenda also seems exceptionally light, and so we proposed that the January session should simply be cancelled.
The ball is now in the President of the Parliament’s court, but it wouldn’t surprise me if he answered that while he understood our concerns (this is what this sort of person always says), the EP could not avoid its treaty obligation to meet once a month in Strasbourg.

As it turned out last week the roof in Strasbourg, part of which has collapsed before and quite recently, was once again not in a good state of repair. Strasbourg, in addition, saw a great deal of snow. With a bit of luck the whole thing will cave in under the snow, and then we might have a chance indeed of receiving a positive answer. In January we could get on with our work, without having to put up with this unnecessary removal. So, as far as I’m concerned, the song of the moment is ‘let it snow, let it snow, let it snow’.

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