Roof collapse highlights European Parliament circus’ wasted millions

By Alan Osborn

Once again events at the European Parliament have reminded us of how easy it is to brush aside things like common-sense and good financial management when a nation’s self-regard is at stake.

The issue came up recently when a roof collapsed in the parliament’s building in Strasbourg in France so that the assembly was obliged to hold two plenary sessions at its other headquarters in Brussels. Because the parliament didn’t have to move a travelling circus of MEPs, officials, office equipment, files and all its other paraphernalia across to the French city, it saved between Euros 3 to 4 million in operating costs.

So the obvious question this summer was: why does the Parliament have to have two places of work? Why not save millions in travel costs, not to mention the physical strain on MEPs and others of the monthly cross-border trek, by holding all meetings in Brussels? Answer: because it serves French national pride to have the parliament meet in Strasbourg and however much MEPs dislike this, there’s nothing they can do about it.

This is because an inter-governmental agreement between the EU member countries stipulates that the parliament must meet 12 times a year in Strasbourg so that a hugely costly building (though not a very well-built one apparently) has to be maintained in that city. Only unanimous agreement by all governments can change that. We don’t know exactly what France agreed to in return for the Strasbourg concession but presumably none of the EU governments feels like un-picking the deal, no matter how illogical and wasteful it looks to the rest of the world.