|Series Title||European Voice|
|Series Details||05/10/95, Volume 1, Number 03|
NEW attempts by the European Parliament to transfer more staff and business to Brussels have prompted protests from both Luxembourg and France, who fear a steady drift towards the Belgian capital.
The two governments are fighting hard to prevent any fraying at the edges of a three-year-old agreement by EU leaders guaranteeing parliamentary activities and presence in Strasbourg and Luxembourg. Joining forces earlier this week, the two persuaded Spanish Foreign Minister Javier Solana Madariaga to complain to the Parliament's president Klaus Hänsch.
The latest dispute threatens to rekindle passions over the most suitable residence for the 626-member Parliament and raises the spectre of a legal battle over whether the MEPs themselves or governments should be able to determine how the assembly conducts its business.
Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker wrote to Hänsch upon learning of plans to transfer up to 100 employees from the institution's library in the Grand Duchy to Brussels to staff an information centre for MEPs, assistants, journalists and the public once the new parliamentary complex is completed.
Juncker argued that the transfer would be a breach of the agreement reached by EU leaders at their December 1992 Edinburgh European summit on the locations of the EU institutions. There it was decided the seat would be Strasbourg, which would host “12 periods of monthly plenary sessions” and that “the general secretariat of the European Parliament and its departments shall remain in Luxembourg”.
French anger emerged after MEPs in Strasbourg voted last month to hold just 11 plenary sessions in the Alsatian capital next year, alongside eight shorter sessions in Brussels.
Solana pointed out in his letter to Hänsch that the decisions appeared to contradict the Edinburgh agreement. Georges de Bremond d'Ars, the leader of the French Christian Democrat parliamentary delegation took an even stronger line against the Parliament's decision.
“The question is: what legal value does this decision have? The Edinburgh agreement comes from the treaty. We MEPs cannot do anything, but I believe it is up to the French government to ask the Council of Ministers to ask the European Court of Justice to rule on this,” he insisted.
Few believe that EU governments would risk damaging relations between the two institutions with a bitter legal battle. Only this year, the Edinburgh agreement was honoured with 12 plenary meetings in Strasbourg. In 1994 the number was 10 and the year before 11.
Hänsch has also moved quickly to reassure Juncker that the plans for a new Brussels-based information centre will not mean a drain on staff from the Grand Duchy. He confirmed in a letter that the project would not weaken the Parliament's presence. Under a restructuring plan now being devised for some of the Parliament's departments, he suggested that staff might be moved from Brussels to Luxembourg to compensate for those moving the other way.
Not everyone is pacified by the pledge and one Luxembourg official complained: “This is what I call salami or guerrilla tactics. They think that if they move small groups of staff, slice by small slice, we will not notice. Well, they are wrong.”
Angelina Hermanns, spokeswoman for Hänsch, said the new information centre was being sited in Brussels for “very pragmatic reasons”. She added: “That is where the people are. There is no point in having a library for MEPs if it is 200 kilometres away. We are talking about 80 to 100 people.”
The latest war of words has revealed the difficulties and sensitivities involved in trying to reconcile efficiency and savings with national pride in the workings of the Parliament. MEPs opposed to the distribution of venues between three centres complain that the repeated travelling to Strasbourg costs about 125 million ecu a year.
The argument is set to continue in the coming months as the new premises for MEPs continue to rise skywards in both Brussels and Strasbourg. The cost of financing both projects threatens to swamp the Parliament's administrative budget.
According to one of the rapporteur's of next year's EU budget, British Socialist MEP Terry Wynn: “The problem with our staff expenditure is that it is being eaten into by the problem of the rate of exchange between the ecu and the Belgian franc and by the costs of our buildings. We have very little room for manoeuvre.”
For that reason alone the long-running battle over the working place of the European Parliament is set to continue.
|Subject Categories||Politics and International Relations|
|Countries / Regions||Belgium|