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European Parliament debates scrapping Strasbourg seat for first time

Voici un article venant de Politco, publié le 5 juillet 2017.

STRASBOURG, France — The European Parliament on Wednesday held its first ever debate on whether to scrap its Strasbourg seat — even though the assembly does not have the power to choose its own home.

Ditching the Strasbourg seat would end the costly traveling circus that sees MEPs and staff decamp from Brussels to the French city once a month.

But as Strasbourg is the official seat of the Parliament, any change to its status would require a change in the EU’s founding treaties by a unanimous decision of EU leaders in the European Council. And France’s new president Emmanuel Macron appears to be determined to keep the Parliament in Strasbourg, the city that is a symbol of historic reconciliation between France and Germany after World War II.

On Wednesday, many MEPs said they wanted a single seat for the Parliament as many of them consider that traveling to Strasbourg once a month is a waste of time, money, and CO2 emissions. Many also expressed support for the idea that the Parliament’s Strasbourg buildings could instead house the European Medicines Agency (EMA), which is leaving London as a result of Brexit.

Ulrike Lunacek, an Austrian Green MEP, said it was “high time” for the Parliament to start a dialogue with the European Council and the new French government. “We, as members of this Parliament, wish to decide for ourselves where we meet,” Lunacek said.

A few French MEPs mounted a staunch defense of keeping the Parliament’s presence in Strasbourg, which lies close to the German border. “This debate is ridiculous,” said Anne Sander, a French MEP who has long championed keeping the Strasbourg seat. “If we were to reopen the debate, we would have to talk about the seats of all the institutions.”

Giving up the Strasbourg seat to make way for the EMA, she said, shows that “you forget the meaning of the European project.”

While many MEPs may want to give up on Strasbourg, the Parliament itself keeps putting down roots in the city.

Wednesday’s debate took place just days after the Parliament inaugurated a Strasbourg version of its Brussels-based “Parlamentarium,” a visitor center with a 360-degree projection room and interactive tools to explain the EU and the role of its legislature. On Wednesday, the Parliament also added a new building named after former Czech President Vaclav Havel to its Strasbourg premises.

Parliament’s presence in Strasbourg has been an ongoing bone of contention. In 2013, the assembly’s own Constitutional Affairs Committee adopted a call to change the treaty to allow the Parliament to decide where and when to meet. But France always made clear it would fight any attempt to give up the Strasbourg plenary sessions.

Nathalie Loiseau, France’s new EU affairs minister, said on a visit to Strasbourg that the Alsatian city was “the place of Europe’s historical reconciliation,” and would remain the official seat of the Parliament.

“The seat of the European Parliament is in Strasbourg because of the treaties, and for real reasons,” Loiseau said. “We have never conceived the European Union as an entity that should only have a single capital, and a single place.”

She also noted that France had already nominated the city of Lille as its candidate to host the EMA. “We need this presence of Europe in several places,” she said.