MEPs reiterate call for single seat for Parliament

Written by Martin Banks on 4 December 2019 in News

Despite claiming to be a carbon-neutral institution, Parliament's 12 annual trips to Strasbourg are estimated to emit between 11,000 and 19,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions per year.

Photo credit: European Parliament Audiovisual

Coordinators in Parliament's environment committee will also later this week be asked to endorse a request for an official parliamentary study into the environmental impact of operating the highly controversial two-seat campaign.

Commenting on the latest events, ECR environment spokesman Alexandr Vondra compared Parliament’s recent declaration of a “climate emergency” to its continued and much-criticised practice of decamping to Strasbourg every month.

Vondra, a Czech member, said: “In declaring a climate emergency, it's important that MEPs get their own house in order and end the monthly travelling circus to Strasbourg. If we want voters to trust us on ambitious climate plans, then public bodies like the European Parliament need to lead the way and show that we are playing our part.”


Other MEPs blasted the European Union's “hypocrisy” in wanting to combat climate change while maintaining the dual seat system.

A treaty change is necessary to alter the arrangement and some deputies are now challenging Member State governments to scrap the so-called travelling circus that sees the legislature and its staff shuttle back and forth every month between Parliament buildings and suites of offices hundreds of kilometres apart in Brussels and Strasbourg.

The practice of holding parliamentary sittings in both the Belgian capital and the French city is stipulated in the EU treaties in a clause which France has so far resisted all pressure to amend.

MEPs have for years led the campaign for a single seat.

“If we want voters to trust us on ambitious climate plans, then public bodies like the European Parliament need to lead the way and show that we are playing our part” Alexandr Vondra MEP

Now the ECR group is spearheading fresh attempts to “shame the EU into action” by inserting a last-minute clause into the bloc's list of recommendations to the COP25 global summit on climate change, which started on Monday in Madrid.

The paragraph calls on the EU's governments to agree on a single seat and end the “huge” carbon footprint created by the shuttle arrangement.

UK ECR member Geoffrey Van Orden, leader of Britain's Conservative MEPs, also said: "The dual-seat system is a relic of the past that has no place in a modern world. Wherever the Parliament may sit at any one time it leaves another massive building standing largely empty and useless, but heated and lit.”

“MEPs don’t want this - years ago we voted to scrap the Strasbourg Parliament. Thousands of officials, boxes of files and equipment are ferried back and forth in fleets of pantechnicons and specially-chartered transport. The monetary cost is in the millions and the damage in CO2 emissions is shameful.”

He added, “No organisation can honestly claim to be serious about tackling climate change and still maintain a way of working which is so manifestly destructive to the environment as this.”

In 2016, Parliament proclaimed itself to be the first 100 percent carbon-neutral EU institution, by offsetting all of its “irreducible” carbon emissions.

The ECR and other groups argue there is greater scope for Parliament to cut its emissions and provide “low-carbon leadership” as one element of its supposedly “irreducible” emissions can be still be significantly minimised: those emissions which are a consequence of its two-seat arrangement.

“Wherever the Parliament may sit at any one time it leaves another massive building standing largely empty and useless, but heated and lit” Geoffrey Van Orden MEP

A Parliament resolution, dated 26 March, on the budgetary discharge of the EU for the financial year 2017, states that its environmental impact is significant and stands at “between 11,000 and 19,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions” per annum. This, it is said, is broadly equivalent to driving between 2,000 and 4,000 passenger cars for an entire year.

It is claimed the Parliament has been aware of these external costs since at least 2007 when the Greens/EFA group presented their own study. This report concluded that “the Strasbourg operation imposes a CO2 burden that is at the very least 18,901 tonnes greater (and probably much more) than if the sole seat was in Brussels.”

Although Parliament's guidelines for the 2019 and 2020 budgets recognise this as a legitimate issue, the resolutions call only for a “roadmap” to a single seat, with no fixed commitments or deadlines.

An ECR spokesman said, “This environmental burden, combined with the energy costs entailed by relocating to Strasbourg each month, undermines and cheapens Parliament’s claim to be carbon neutral.”

About the author

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at The Parliament Magazine

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