The EU must consider establishing Brussels as the sole base of the European parliament, breaking its historic links to Strasbourg, to achieve carbon neutrality by 2030, an internal report has advised.
The decision would involve a treaty change and a major row with the French government but the study’s authors say it is clear the EU needs to “rationalise” despite the symbolic importance of the Alsatian city as a symbol of Franco-German reconciliation.
The parliament sits in Strasbourg for three and a half days 12 times a year, involving a monthly grand déménagement of 2,400 MEPs, assistants, drivers and parliament staff, along with journalists and lobbyists. MEPs and their staff otherwise work in Brussels and their constituencies.
The report, commissioned by the parliament’s environment committee, argues that the Covid-19 pandemic has provided an “image on how working and operational conditions of the European parliament could look like in 2030”.
To the frustration of the French president, Emmanuel Macron, the parliament has not sat in Strasbourg since February because of the health crisis. He has recently claimed that if the parliament does not return to Strasbourg, the EU will be “screwed”.
According to the authors of the report, a decision on the future of Strasbourg, which only has a small number of permanent staff working even during normal times, should be taken within six to nine years.
“Instead of its current three sites [Brussels, Luxembourg and Strasbourg], in a carbon neutrality pathway, it is evident that the European parliament needs to consider operation in one site,” the authors from the EU’s directorate general for internal policies write.
“Although the emission difference for the MEPs’ travel from their home to Brussels or Strasbourg is not big, additional emissions are associated for example with the travelling of staff, stakeholders, journalists, lobbyists, etc.”
The reassessment is said to be one of a number of measures necessary to achieve domestic carbon emission neutrality by 2030, a target passed in a resolution of the chamber, the report says.
The parliament claims to be emission-neutral on the basis that it offsets its carbon footprint through financial payments to energy conservation projects in Ghana, Uganda and Malawi.
The report notes that the European parliament has made repeated recommendations in favour of ending the Strasbourg sittings.
Previous economic studies have found that terminating the link with the French city could generate annual savings of €114m plus a one-off saving of €616m if the buildings were sold off.
The seats of the parliament are determined under article 341 of the 1992 treaty on the functioning of the European Union. The formal seat of the European parliament is in Strasbourg, and Brussels and Luxembourg are “working places”. Luxembourg hosts the parliament’s secretariat.
Any modification would require a treaty change, with the consent of all the member states.
In September, Macron told students in Lithuania that he was “fighting tooth and nail for the idea that the European parliament should meet in Strasbourg”.
“If we accept that the European parliament only meets in Brussels, we are screwed – because in 10 years everything will be in Brussels and people will only speak among themselves in Brussels,” he told students at the University of Vilnius. “But Europe does not represent this idea, the idea is for everyone to respect each other, for one to go toward the other”.