BRUSSELS (AP) — European Union lawmakers have voted overwhelmingly to meet only in Brussels and avoid costly monthly treks to Strasbourg, France, even though such a move faces a French veto.
The 766 EU legislators have two main offices and shuttle their staffs for meetings of the full Parliament in Strasbourg, a practice that comes from the beginnings of the bloc when France and Germany sought an emblem for their postwar reconciliation.
Critics argue the practice is illogical, expensive and unnecessary, especially when most other EU business is handled in Brussels. The EU spends 180 million euros ($245 million) a year for the monthly four-day move.
In a 483-to-141 vote Wednesday, legislators said Parliament should be allowed to decide where it meets. But the proposal must be approved by the bloc's 28 governments and France is certain to nix any change under the current conditions.
"Particularly given the economic crisis Europe has been weathering for a number of years now, the expense of shuttling the assembly between Brussels and Strasbourg cannot be justified," said British MEP Edward McMillan-Scott.
All major parliamentary groups voted overwhelmingly in favor of the scrapping of Strasbourg, with only the EPP Christian Democrat caucus, which is led by a Frenchman, split down the middle. The parliamentary sessions have become a tremendous economic boost for Strasbourg. When two sessions had to be canceled in 2008 due to a partial roof collapse, the cost to the city was 7.5 million euros ($10 million).
France noted that all EU nations, including Britain, agreed on the dual parliament in 1992. And since any change requires unanimity, France remains in full control of Strasbourg's destiny. "I am surprised that when Europe faces economic and social effects of the crisis, the European Parliament spends time ... on a legally doomed battle," said France's Europe minister, Thierry Repentin.
He noted that many other EU nations were given smaller EU institutions covering everything from fisheries to judicial cooperation to food protection and all that would have to be renegotiated if the status of Strasbourg is changed.
In the meantime, big boxes line up along the Brussels offices of the 766 legislators every month, ready to ship everything from paperwork to extra bottles of water to Strasbourg.
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