In a bid to save money, time and the environment, the European Parliament voted overwhelmingly Wednesday to abandon its redundant meeting site in the French city of Strasbourg and gather instead at bloc headquarters in Brussels.
But as convincing as the 483-141 vote was in highlighting the waste of having 766 Brussels-based lawmakers shuttle to Strasbourg for mandatory monthly sessions, the decision is likely to be only symbolic for the time being.
Under European Union rules dating to the parliament’s founding in 1952, any fundamental change in operations must be approved unanimously by what are now 28 member states.
And France, as host of the monthly four-day sessions in Strasbourg and recipient of EU stipends for upkeep of the parliament building in the Rhine River city, has shown no sign of willingness to endorse an end to its legislative gravy train.
The vote on a proposal by German and British lawmakers was seen more as an opening salvo in a campaign to raise public awareness of the cost and impracticality of having two seats for one legislative body.
“The practice of shifting thousands of people and resources from place to place is not only costly, inefficient, wasteful and environmentally damaging, it also seriously damages the public perception of the EU,” German Greens party lawmaker Gerald Haefner, an author of the proposal to abandon Strasbourg, told the European Voice.
Haefner hailed the convincing vote in favor of the single-seat motion for its breaking of the “omertà” on openly discussing a treaty change that would save the European lawmakers about $275 million a year in travel and duplicate office costs.
“The traveling circus between different workplaces leads to unjustifiable costs and environmental damage that can no longer be explained to the public," Germany’s Social Democrats said in a statement.
British Liberal Democrat Edward McMillan-Scott told the Daily Mail that more than three-quarters of the European Legislature wants to end “the costly and inefficient monthly, four-day trek to Strasbourg.”
The British daily said the lawmakers’ strategy was to “pressure France to give in” and recognize Europeans’ preference for the more efficient and cost-effective single seat for the Legislature. It noted that a 2006 petition for ending the two-seat arrangement was signed by more than 1 million EU citizens.
There was no immediate reaction to the vote from the French government, but Labor Minister Michel Sapin said during a Strasbourg visit Tuesday that “France clearly doesn‘t want treaty changes on this issue.”
Wednesday’s vote calls on the next European Parliament to be elected in May to initiate the legislation required for treaty amendments to designate only Brussels as the legislative seat of the 500 million who live within the European Union.