Monday, March 26, 2012

Strasbourg

The discussion about the European Parliament's other seat in Strasbourg is infuriating in the extreme for anyone who knows anything about EU law. Yes, we all agree that having two seats is dumb. Yes, we all agree that the Strasbourg seat should be abolished, but no, we can't do it no matter how much we want to. For convenience, and undoubtedly not for the last time, allow me to quote the full length of Protocol 6:
PROTOCOL (No 6)
ON THE LOCATION OF THE SEATS OF THE INSTITUTIONS AND OF CERTAIN BODIES, OFFICES, AGENCIES AND DEPARTMENTS OF THE EUROPEAN UNION\
THE REPRESENTATIVES OF THE GOVERNMENTS OF THE MEMBER STATES,
HAVING REGARD to Article 341 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union and
Article 189 of the Treaty establishing the European Atomic Energy Community,
RECALLING AND CONFIRMING the Decision of 8 April 1965, and without prejudice to the decisions concerning the seat of future institutions, bodies, offices, agencies and departments,
HAVE AGREED UPON the following provisions, which shall be annexed to the Treaty on European Union and to the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, and to the Treaty establishing the European Atomic Energy Community:
Sole Article
(a) The European Parliament shall have its seat in Strasbourg where the 12 periods of monthly plenary sessions, including the budget session, shall  be held. The periods of additional plenary sessions shall be held in Brussels. The committees of the European Parliament shall meet in Brussels. The General Secretariat of the European Parliament and its departments shall remain in Luxembourg.
(b) The Council shall have its seat in Brussels. During the months of April, June and October, the Council shall hold its meetings in Luxembourg.
(c) The Commission shall have its seat in Brussels. The departments listed in Articles 7, 8 and 9 of the Decision of 8 April 1965 shall be established in Luxembourg.
(d) The Court of Justice of the European Union shall have its seat in Luxembourg.
(e) The Court of Auditors shall have its seat in Luxembourg.
(f) The Economic and Social Committee shall have its seat in Brussels.
(g) The Committee of the Regions shall have its seat in Brussels.
(h) The European Investment Bank shall have its seat in Luxembourg.
(i) The European Central Bank shall have its seat in Frankfurt.
(j) The European Police Office (Europol) shall have its seat in The Hague.
As anyone with basic reading ability can see, the French have a reasonable point in their suit against the Parliament's decision to cancel one of its annual trips to Strasbourg. (Here's the announcement of the case for the 2012 calendar, and here's the one for 2013.) Heck, France already won that case once before.

But today there's something new. EUObserver reports that the new President of the Parliament, Martin Schultz, has said that if the European Parliament were to have one seat, it should be Strasbourg rather than Brussels. (link) If this is indeed what he said it is, with all due respect, dumber than a sack of hammers.

In the European Quarter in Brussels, all of public life revolves around Place Lux, right outside the European Parliament. This is not because the Parliament is so important, but simply because RP Schuman doesn't exactly have a lot of nice caf├ęs. Regardless, the ability to mingle with the Eurocrats that work for the other Institutions is vital to the working of the Parliament. Even if they could do all their trilogues via teleconferencing  - doubtful - the EP would still lose vast amounts of soft power because of diminished contacts with the rest of the Euro-bubble. And this is important because the EP doesn't exactly have power and influence to spare. They need to be where the action is, because the action isn't going to follow them. (And certainly not to the provincial backwater that is Strasbourg in March.)

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