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Defying Macron, Austria's Kurz says axe European Parliament's Strasbourg site

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Defying Macron, Austria's Kurz says axe European Parliament's Strasbourg site
FILE PHOTO: Premier of the German state of Bavaria Markus Soeder (not pictured) and Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz address the media in Vienna, Austria May 3, 2019. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger   -   Copyright  LEONHARD FOEGER(Reuters)
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VIENNA (Reuters) – Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz has called for the European Parliament to stop travelling to Strasbourg for a week each month, as part of a wider proposal to overhaul the treaty underpinning the European Union.

In an interview with Austria’s Kleine Zeitung and other newspapers posted online on Friday, Kurz said the Lisbon treaty was outdated and a new one was needed to change how the bloc and its institutions work.

He said French President Emmanuel Macron, who opposes changing the Strasbourg arrangement, should get on board.

“Macron emerged as a reformer. Whoever calls for reforms should also be prepared to carry them out where it hurts,” Kurz said, calling for the European Parliament to be based in Brussels full time.

“We have to end the travelling circus of the EU Parliament.”

Members of the European Parliament convene in the French city of Strasbourg for one week every month and in Brussels for the remainder of the time. The monthly upheaval costs the bloc 114 million euros ($127.54 million) a year, EU auditors say.

Critics have long called for the arrangement to be scrapped, but France would veto any attempt to make the required amendment to the EU treaty. Macron’s government said in 2017 it would oppose a move.

Kurz has frequently called for the bloc to focus on fewer, more central tasks such as securing its borders and hand back other responsibilities to member states. He also wants a smaller Commission.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, however, has said Austria, the Netherlands and “all too often Germany” are preventing deeper euro zone integration.

Macron has pushed for sweeping euro zone reforms but has met resistance from northern European countries loathe to bind themselves more closely to weaker economies in the south.

“We need a new treaty with clear sanctions against member states that increase debt, penalties for countries that do not register illegal migrants and wave them through, as well as tough consequences for violations of the rule of law and liberal democracy,” Kurz said.

The remarks appeared aimed at Italy, Greece and Hungary, which Austria has locked horns with over their budget, handling of migrants and the rule of law respectively. Kurz is also an immigration hard-liner governing in coalition with the far right.

His appeal, before this month’s European Parliament election, is unlikely to succeed, since changing the EU treaty requires unanimity among member states, ratification in their parliaments and, in some countries, national referendums.

(Reporting by Francois Murphy; Editing by Janet Lawrence)

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