MEPs push to leave Strasbourg site with treaty change

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The European Parliament has called for an EU treaty change to stop MEPs' monthly shuttle to Strasbourg in France, and instead make Brussels the parliament's permanent home.

Most MEPs are convinced that the Brussels-Strasbourg shuttle is a huge waste of time and money.

The costs and CO2 emissions have grown as the parliament has got bigger and more powerful over the years, they say.

Unanimity is required for a treaty change, so France can still block it.

Only EU governments - jointly called the Council - currently have the power to change a treaty.

Most of the EU's business takes place in Brussels and that is where EU summits - official meetings of the European Council - are held.

The current Strasbourg shuttle requires 766 MEPs and more than 3,000 members of staff to move their offices entirely to the French city on the Rhine for a few days every month.

The border city symbolised European reconciliation after World War 2, with Germany on the opposite bank. Businesses in Strasbourg thrive on the monthly influx of MEPs, lobbyists and others involved in the parliament's work.

MEPs overwhelmingly backed a report by the UK Conservative MEP Ashley Fox and a German Green MEP, Gerald Haefner, which calls for a treaty change to "allow parliament to decide on the location of its seat and its internal organisation".

As the EU body which most directly represents European citizens, the report says, parliament "should be granted the prerogative of determining its own working arrangements, including the right to decide where and when it holds its meetings".

The report was adopted with 483 votes for and 141 against. There were 34 abstentions.

'Travelling circus'

Last year the French government took legal action when MEPs tried to cut the number of sessions they hold in Strasbourg every year. And it would veto a proposal to move parliament out of the city for good, the BBC's Chris Morris reports.

Luxembourg hosts the parliament's secretariat and in the past it has sided with France in opposing the "single seat" campaign.

British MEPs are in the vanguard of the campaign to stop what they call the "travelling circus".

The Single Seat campaign website says that every year the Strasbourg shuttle wastes at least 180m euros (£150m; $243m) and generates 19,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions.

The campaigners point out that more than one million EU citizens have signed a petition calling for the parliament to have a single seat - Brussels.

The EU can already introduce legislation if at least one million citizens request it, through the Citizen's Initiative procedure.

The Fox-Haefner report says the monthly migration to Strasbourg is detrimental to the EU's reputation, "especially at a time when the financial crisis has led to serious and painful expenditure cuts in the member states".

But in a debate on the issue on Tuesday evening French MEPs defended Strasbourg's role.

French centre-right MEP Constance Le Grip told the campaigners: "You are turning your backs on the history and the founding principles of the European Union".

And Bruno Gollnisch from the far-right French National Front (FN) blamed "newcomers to the club wanting to change the rules" for the numbers wanting to scrap the Strasbourg shuttle.

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