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STRASBOURG

‘The EU should not allow the symbol of peace in Europe to become a symbol of waste’

OPINION: It is time to stop moving the EU parliament between Brussels and Strasbourg every month, argues Swedish MEP Anna Maria Corazza Bildt and the Single Seat Steering group.

'The EU should not allow the symbol of peace in Europe to become a symbol of waste'
Anna Maria Corazza Bildt, speaking in the European Parliament on July 5th. Photo: Private

As Members of the European Parliament we time and again are confronted with the same question: why do you accept this carousel of moving the Parliament between Brussels and Strasbourg with all its blatant waste? Time after time emotions go high on this – and rightly so.

It's an old compromise that once located the European Parliament in Strasbourg, although subsequently more and more of its actual day to day work is carried out in Brussels. A protocol to the treaties from 1992 still mandates the Parliament to have session 12 times a year in Strasbourg, and that's where the waste sets in.

And it's not a minor issue. Thousands of people have to be relocated from Brussels to Strasbourg for each of these sessions. Official estimates talk of a cost of at least €114 million annually and that the traveling circus contributes 19,000 tonnes to CO2 emissions every year.

For the EU to be credible we need to be consistent. We must practice what we preach. We also have a responsibility to not let the issue of the seat fall into the hands of populists who use it against the EU.

As elected members of the European Parliament we are powerless to change this, but we have the power to ask the member states for Treaty change under art. 48 of the TEU, for the Parliament to decide on its seat. Year after year we have voted with large majorities to end this wasteful circus, but so far to no avail.

The “Single Seat Campaign” has broad support across party groups and nations. We want a European Parliament more efficient, less polluting and less costly, closer to citizens. We are for democracy, for Europe, for dialogue. Our goal is for the Parliament to decide on when and where to meet.

Strasbourg is indeed a symbol of peace and reconciliation, for us and generations to come, but this powerful symbol is by no means a function of the European Parliament meeting there monthly. If institutions are necessary for the symbolism, this delightful city is already seat of both the Council of Europe and the European Court of Human Rights. It also hosts the common French-German army brigade.

The EU should not allow a symbol of peace in Europe to become a symbol of waste.

We have a duty to our citizens to see that the EU budgets are spent in the wisest way possible, and with budgets getting increasingly tight with the exit of the United Kingdom, there is simply no way in which anyone can defend this meaningless commute of the European Parliament.

This July was important in that the European Parliament for the first time set a debate on its seats in its plenary session, reflecting the increasing pressure on the issue.

The painful process of Brexit will force us to reconsider many issues, notably the budgetary ones. But it must also make us more alert to the concerns of our citizens on issues of wasteful spending and unnecessary bureaucracy.

It also opens up issues related to the location of different EU bodies, and in this process there might well be new opportunities to find solutions acceptable to all – also to France – in order to get a resolution of this issue. We hope, for example, that France will ask for the important European Medicines Agency, based in London, to be located in Strasbourg.

The Single Seat Campaign is presently drawing up an Action Plan looking at the different possibilities of moving this important issue further.

The European Parliament is gradually becoming more and more important. In recent years, statesmen from all over the world have come to address its 752 members, and through them the peoples of Europe. It should also not be forgotten that it has co-legislative powers with the EU governments in the Council of Ministers.

The efficiency of the Parliament clearly calls for an end to the circus, but so does our firm responsibility to the taxpayers and our will to reconnect with the citizens of Europe. There are many things we should spend money on – but certainly not on this wasteful exercise. The European Parliament deserves one seat – and it should be in Brussels.

Of course, the key player is France. Any realistic option should provide France with both economic and political benefits. We are reaching out to France with a positive attitude and offer to engage in a constructive dialogue to find win-win solutions for a better Europe closer to citizens.

Anna Maria Corazza Bildt (EPP, Sweden), on behalf of the Single Seat Steering group.

Vice Chairs Pina Picierno (S&D, Italy), Ashley Fox (ECR, UK), Beatriz Becerra (ALDE, Spain), Dennis De Jong (GUE-NGL, Netherlands) and Ulrike Lunacek (Greens-EFA, Austria).

BREXIT

Brexit: Brits in EU feel European and don’t want to return home

The majority of Britons who live in the EU, Norway, Iceland or Switzerland and are protected under the Brexit agreement feel European and intend to remain in Europe permanently, but many have concerns about travel problems, a new survey reveals.

Brexit: Brits in EU feel European and don't want to return home

The research also shows that problems exist and “travel is where most issues relating to the new status currently occur”. For instance, border officials are still stamping passports of UK citizens with residence rights under the EU UK withdrawal agreement, even though they shouldn’t.

“There is constant confusion around passport stamping. I was ‘stamped in’ to France on a short trip… but could not find anyway to be ‘stamped out’ again. I think I can only spend 90 days in other EU countries, but have no idea how anyone can check or enforce that – until someone decides to try. It’s a mess,” was one of the answers left in an open question.

“Every time I go through a Schengen border control, I need to provide both my passport and Aufenthaltstitel card [resident permit in Germany] and watch to check that they don’t stamp my passport. As I am currently travelling a lot that’s been 20-odd times this year…” another respondent said.

The survey was carried out by Professor Tanja Bueltmann, historian of migration and diaspora at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, between October and November 2022. About 1,139 UK citizens replied.

Of these, 80 per cent found acquiring their new status easy or very easy, 60.7 per cent feel their rights are secure, while 39.3 per cent have concerns about their status going forward.

Staying permanently

More than three quarters (76.6 per cent) of respondents said they plan to live permanently in the EU or the other countries of the European Economic Area and Switzerland. In fact, 65.7 per cent said that Brexit has increased the likelihood of this choice.

For some, the decision is linked to the difficulty to bring non-British family members to the UK under new, stricter immigration rules.

“My German wife and I decided we no longer wanted to live in UK post Brexit referendum. In particular, we were affected by the impact of immigration law […] We cannot now return to UK on retirement as I cannot sponsor her on my pension. We knew it was a one-way journey. Fortunately, I could revive an application for German citizenship,” was a testimony.

“My husband is a US citizen and getting him a visa for the UK was near impossible due to my low income as a freelance journalist. We realized under EU law, moving to an EU country was easier. We settled on Austria as we had both lived there before… we could speak some German, and we like the mountains,” said another respondent.

Professor Bueltmann noted that the loss of free movement rights in the EU could be a factor too in the decision of many to stay where they are.

Citizenship and representation

Among those who decided to stay, 38.2 per cent are either applying or planning to apply for a citizenship and 28.6 per cent are thinking about it.

A key finding of the research, Bueltmann said, is that the vast majority of British citizens do not feel politically represented. Some 60 per cent of respondents said they feel unrepresented and another 30 per cent not well represented.

Another issue is that less than half (47.5 per cent) trust the government of their country of residence, while a larger proportion (62 per cent) trust the European Union. Almost all (95.6 per cent) said they do not trust the UK government.

Feeling European

The survey highlights the Brexit impacts on people’s identity too. 82.6 per cent of respondents said they see themselves as European, a higher proportion than those identifying as British (68.9 per cent).

“Brexit has really left me unsure of what my identity is. I don’t feel British, and I certainly don’t identify with the mindset of a lot of British people who live there. Yet, I am not Danish either. So, I don’t really know anymore!” said one of the participants in the survey.

Professor Bueltmann said the survey “demonstrates that Brexit impacts continue to evolve: this didn’t just stop because the transition period was over or a deadline for an application had been reached. Consequently, Brexit continues to shape the lives and experiences of British citizens in the EU/EEA and Switzerland in substantial, sometimes life-altering, ways.”

Considering the results of the study, Professor Bueltmann recommends policy makers in the EU and the UK to address the issue of lack of representation, for instance creating a joint UK-EU citizens’ stakeholder forum.

The report also recommends the UK government to rebuild trust with British citizens in the EU introducing voting rights for life and changing immigration rules to allow British-European families to return more easily. 

This article was prepared in cooperation with Europe Street News.

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