France’s Strasbourg to keep EU capital status: Hollande
France would never allow Strasbourg to be stripped of its status as a European capital, President Francois Hollande said Sunday, despite the huge cost of shuttling EU politicians there from Brussels each month.
“Never will France authorise any modification of any kind,” Hollande said as he signed new agreements providing close to a billion euros ($1.1 billion) to the city and the surrounding region of Alsace.
Members of the European Parliament are forced to decamp every month from Brussels to Strasbourg for voting sessions — a tradition enshrined in the earliest European Union treaties.
The “travelling circus”, as some call it, costs taxpayers an estimated 114 million euros ($125 million) a year, according to an assessment by the European Court of Auditors last year.
Between 3,000 and 4,000 people, including around 800 members of parliament and their administrative staff and translators, make the journey for one week every month.
They use their Strasbourg offices only 317 days per year, but the parliament building still requires 100 full-time staff to keep it running.
Two express trains are chartered to carry officials, and several thousand boxes full of documents have to be transported by a courier agency.
Although many MEPs dislike the disruption, and fear the waste fuels voter distrust, it is unlikely to change.
Shifting the seat of parliament permanently to Brussels would require unanimous support from all 28 members of the EU, and would certainly be blocked by France which fiercely protects the prestige and financial benefits that come with hosting the sessions.
The new investments signed by Hollande on Sunday — part of a funding programme that dates back to 1980 — were focused on transport, energy, research and innovation, digital services and culture.
Strasbourg also hosts the European Court of Human Rights and several other institutions.