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EU parliament’s €114m-a-year move to Strasbourg ‘a waste of money’, but will it ever be scrapped?

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EU parliament’s €114m-a-year move to Strasbourg ‘a waste of money’, but will it ever be scrapped?
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Euronews asked candidates for the EU's top job to respond to a simple question: do you think moving the European Parliament from Brussels to Strasbourg every month is a waste of money?

Most of those running to be the next European Commission president were unanimous: yes.

Auditors say shifting MEPs and their staff from Belgium to France costs at least €114 million per year.

Euronews interviewed Frans Timmermans, Violeta Tomič, Ska Keller, Jan Zahradil and Guy Verhofstadt, all of whom are in the running to replace Jean-Claude Juncker after this month's election.

The one person we didn't interview was Manfred Weber of the European People's Party, whose office provided us with a statement.

Weber said it was not a waste of money, but rather that Strasbourg was a "symbol of the Franco-German reconciliation, of peace after decades of war".

The cost of travelling

The EU Parliament's triangle of locations: Strasbourg, Brussels, and Luxembourg City were formed to balance the original and smaller European Union, experts say.

Among the costs accrued by the monthly relocation, however, includes transportation for thousands of parliament officials, political groups, parliamentary assistants and freelance interpreters, in addition to paperwork that is transported by truck between the locations.

In a March plenary resolution on the EP budget, it was noted that the environmental impact is significant and stands at "between 11,000 and 19,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions" a year.

That's the equivalent of driving between 2,000 and 4,000 passenger vehicles for an entire year.

Divesting the vacant buildings in Strasbourg as part of a move would save at least €616.1 million up front and €113.8 million per year according to a 2014 audit by the European Court of Auditors (ECA).

Moving offices from Luxembourg City to Brussels, auditors said in 2014, could save €13.4 million per year, but it's the travel between Strasbourg and Brussels that has garnered the most criticism for efficiency.

Obstacles to change

The seats of the EU parliament were decided by a 1992 treaty.

Scrapping Strasbourg would require unanimous support from all member states to change this text.

A spokesperson for EPP candidate Manfred Weber told Euronews in a statement: "The topic is not on the table for the moment, as the treaties are clear on that matter."

"The biggest obstacle is the French government," said Camino Mortera-Martinez, a senior research fellow for EU justice and home affairs at the Centre for European Reform.

Indeed, Nathalie Loiseau, the woman leading French President Emmanuel Macron's European election list launched a petition to keep the Strasbourg seat.

"Yes, #Strasbourg must stay the seat of the European Parliament," she tweeted.

"If you want the French to change that position, you have to pay a price... France needs to agree to give it up, and France doesn't," Frans Timmermans told Euronews. He said so far France has not agreed to any compensation.

But he pointed out that Belgium would hold the same view if the situation were the reverse.

A European city

Traditionally, Strasbourg made sense symbolically, but as the EU has grown, the Franco-German significance may be lost on the newer member states.

"Strasbourg is a major symbol for the European Union. It’s a town that has been French and German alternatively, where many compromises have been found over the years," Mortera-Martinez said, calling it "a petri dish of European integration".

But travelling between Brussels and Strasbourg 12 times-a-year is instead seen as inefficient, a representation of European wastefulness.

The 2019 and 2020 European parliament budgets recognise the problem, calling vaguely for a "roadmap to a single seat" but experts do not expect anything to change.

"I don't see the EU leaders having the appetite to actually reopen this question," Mortera-Martinez said.

If it was a priority for them "they would have a timeline and a way and a plan, a roadmap to accomplish it but that is absolutely not the case", she added.