As Europe and the state of the EU dominate headlines, it’s easy to feel that Britain is alone in its frustrations over much of the functioning and democratic deficit of Europe. But we are not.
Today, I’m holding a debate in parliament calling on the government to take action on a European issue supported not only by the Conservative Party, our coalition partners and the opposition, but also many other countries across Europe: the farcical two seat operation of the European Parliament, in Brussels and in Strasbourg.
Farcical, yes. But the so-called “Strasbourg Circus” is no joke. At a time when budgets elsewhere are being cut and living standards are being squeezed, around 1 billion Euros are wasted and 100,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide released over the seven year budget period to please the French by moving thousands of MEPs, their staff, and their paperwork the 250 miles from Brussels to Strasbourg twelve times a year.
Worse, the huge building complex at Strasbourg is left vacant for 317 days every year, and its chamber is an exact replica of the Brussels Parliament, which is where the other main EU institutions are based and where most EU staff and officials live.
This Monty Python-esque situation is hard to justify at the best of times, but is indefensible in the current economic climate. It's hard to see how European leaders can look their electorate in the eye and support waste like this, on an expensive symbolism, whilst cutting budgets for public services.
So what has been done about it? Ashley Fox MEP has led the charge in Brussels to end this farce. Last year, he tabled an amendment to reduce the number of Strasbourg sittings by just one, and was backed by a majority of over 100 MEPs in the European Parliament after a secret ballot. However, the French have taken this case to the European Court of Justice on the grounds that it violates the EU treaties.
Here in Parliament, I have tabled an Early Day Motion calling on the government to negotiate an end to the two seat practice and have support from colleagues across the House. And thanks to Ashley Fox MEP, an e-petition is now attracting real support from the public.
The European Parliament has the unique distinction not only of being the only assembly in the world with more than one permanent seat, but also of being the only one without the power to determine its own location.
Ending this Strasbourg Circus requires treaty change agreed by all 27 countries, but an opportunity may be just around the corner.
This week, the Prime Minister will head to Europe to negotiate the next 7 year budget for the EU. We all want a cut – though, within the realms of reality, even a freeze will be no easy task. But what could be more reasonable than proposing the 1 billion Euro saving that would be achieved by abolishing the EU’s seat in Strasbourg? The French would have a hard task, in this climate, to justify a 'non'.
So today I am calling on the PM to honour the coalition agreement and stand up once more for taxpayers in the UK and across Europe – he would do so with support from across the House, and, crucially, from many across Europe as well.