Strasbourg is Europe’s parliamentary capital. As such, it offers not only an incomparably high profile for the European Parliament, but also a strong symbol to European citizens.
Since 1949, the city has been home to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and, since 1952, to the Parliamentary Assembly of the European Coal and Steel Community, which the European Parliament succeeded in 1962. It is also the seat of the European Ombudsman and European Court of Human Rights. So the Alsatian capital is deeply and historically bound up with European values. For the general public Strasbourg has thus become one of the great capitals of Europe. The French authorities are particularly committed to maintaining this status.
Concentrating decision-making centres in one place does not address the needs and modes of operation of an enlarged European Union. The European Parliament is not the only institution established outside Brussels; the Council holds its sessions in Luxembourg in April, June and October. Some Commission services are located in Luxembourg, the European Central Bank has its headquarters in Frankfurt and Europol is in The Hague. The 27 European Union agencies are established in different Member States. Locating these headquarters in several places reflects the polycentric conception of Europe. In this respect, it is important for the European Parliament’s plenary sessions to continue being held in Strasbourg.
As regards the European Parliament’s operating costs, the estimated figures being circulated do not apply solely to the cost of the Strasbourg headquarters, but to the global cost of the European Parliament’s three locations: Strasbourg seat, Secretariat-General in Luxembourg (where half the civil servants work, i.e. around 2,500 officials) and Brussels. Nor are MEPs’ travel costs incurred solely as a result of the Strasbourg location of the European Parliament. They are in the first place inherent in the very nature of the mandate of MEPs, who are constantly having to travel between their constituencies and the European Parliament.
At university and school level, Strasbourg’s European vocation has recently been strengthened by the opening in September 2008 of the Strasbourg European School. The creation of the University of Strasbourg, uniting Strasbourg’s three universities within a major multi-disciplinary establishment, took place on 1 January 2009. The State has also renewed the subsidies granted to the Kastler Foundation, which helps young foreign researchers in France, and to the Information Centre on European Institutions (CIIE), under the latest three-year contract 2009-2011.
Moreover, since it owns all the buildings it occupies in Strasbourg it is up to the European Parliament to decide on the use of these premises outside plenary sessions. Besides the visits, the European Parliament quite frequently makes these premises available to universities and grandes écoles (1), as was the case last September for the 700 students of the five ESCP/Paris (European business school) campuses.
Finally, it’s important to reiterate that the location of the seat of the European Parliament is laid down by the treaties. The seat of the European Parliament in Strasbourg is laid down in primary law by Protocol No. 12, annexed to the Amsterdam Treaty. Subject to agreement between the Member States and ratified by them, the treaties thus commit all the institutions and all Member States, which must observe them.
(1) Prestigious higher education institutes with competitive entrance examinations.