Au revoir, Strasbourg
With the eurozone in grave financial risk from very worried markets, the EU ought to take the chance to make a small but meaningful gesture by waving au revoir to Strasbourg.
Yesterday morning, the Sunday papers were weighing up the likelihood of the elephant in the room -- also known as the EU – overshadowing Tory party conference.
William Hague said there would be no referendum on the EU, but it has been widely suggested that eurosceptics smell blood and are mobilising the troops for an assault. At the very least, the topic is bound to feature heavily on the conference fringe.
But renegotiating Britain’s relationship with the EU may not be as straight forward as an issue of will and way. And if Britain is trapped in its commitment to the EU, then the very least it ought to do is explore ways and means of cutting the not inconsiderable deadwood from what Mark Pritchard MP has correctly described as a “burdensome yoke”.
The first port of call should be Strasbourg.
Last week, the Boundary review announced initial proposals for a reduction of MPs in the House of Commons. The reasons for reductions are clear. The Commons is the largest elected legislature in Europe, and after the MPs expenses scandal, action was needed to look at how our politics works.
The EU has much to learn from the way the reduction in the number of seats has been handled.
Since the early days of integration, the European Parliament has had the ludicrous policy of holding two seats – one in Brussels and one in Strasbourg. Initially in the 1950s, it was clear to see why Strasbourg was important as a location for European unity. But sixty years on, it is farcical to suggest that Germany would invade France were the European Parliament not there.
It is now time to end the monthly peregrination for reasons similar to the boundary review. Namely to show that the EU understands the disconnect people feel about the way it operates, and that it gets how angry it makes people feel.
Once a month, some 736 MEPs and well over 3,000 staff and functionaries make the 520 mile round-trip. They stay for just four days in a building, which cost taxpayers across Europe €457m and sits unused for more than 300 days of the year.
What was once a symbol of reconciliation is now just a symbol of waste. It does more to harm the image of the EU than any other issue. There has been a change in sentiment amongst MEPs too, with 70 per cent now in favour of having a single seat based in Brussels.
With the eurozone in grave financial risk from very worried markets, the EU ought to take the chance to make a small but meaningful gesture.
The Strasbourg building should not go to waste though. Strasbourg is a beautiful medieval city, steeped in a fascinating, if not sad history and today thrives with more than 60,000 students from all over the world. A building with hundreds of amphitheatres and auditoriums would not struggle to find new tenants in a vibrant academic town.
Politics and politicians are often renowned for gestures. This one though, would go a long way.
Europe should now say au revoir to Strasbourg.
From a British perspective, it may not be the fundamental renegotiation with the EU that appeals to so many. But it would be a small victory all the same.
Anthony Pickles is a Parliamentary Adviser, Conservative activist and former student in Strasbourg
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