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The contradictions of the EU's Strasbourg sessions

Some MEPs find the environmental cost of monthly meetings in France hypocritical.

Sarkozy and French MEPs are unswayed by the often repeated claim that the majority of MEPs want to end the practice (though their signatures on petitions to that effect remain suspiciously sparse, as the Open Europe thinktank found a year ago). A campaign at attracted well over a million signatures from private citizens opposing it.

Undeterred, the latest of many efforts to redress the situation is underway, aimed at Sarkozy personally. Liberal Dutch MEP Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert — a headliner in recent months for leading the fight to reject a new bank data-sharing deal with the United States — has publicly released her appeal to the French president.

The letter references Hennis-Plasschaert’s request to Sarkozy a year ago for a justification for keeping the Strasbourg meetings in a time of economic hardship. It says the French government responded to that request with a reminder of the city’s historical significance. Her 2010 missive acknowledges that tradition but insists Strasbourg has now become a “negative symbol of wasting money and bureaucracy.”

“The two seats cannot be justified another day,” she wrote. “The eyes of many Europeans are upon us waiting for us to lead” in this moment of economic crisis, Hennis-Plaesschaert wrote to Sarkozy. She asked how the European Union is to “maintain the confidence of the hundreds of millions it represents, if it cannot adopt a single seat for the European Parliament.”

She sent a similar letter to EU President Herman van Rompuy, urging him to lead the heads of state into action.

But when asked whether he’s worried the two-seat system will end, Strasbourg Deputy Mayor Jean-Jacques Gsell shakes his head with an air of indulgent weariness. He’s confident there will be no such change; he’s been facing these same arguments for many years, though the economic and environmental stakes are now higher.

“Fighting is not very interesting for the future,” Gsell said. He explained how Strasbourg is not just complacently resting on its historical laurels, it’s also developing new ways of attracting attention and income. New high-speed rail links will make travel from Belgium and Luxembourg more convenient and Gsell says the region is creating a special international zone with the neighboring German city, Kiel, in the near future. The city is in great demand to take its renowned Christmas market on the road to places such as Hong Kong and Rio de Janeiro, he reports, after a recent Tokyo tour saw massive success.

Gsell says he has the ultimate solution to put a stop to all the complaining about monthly travel: “We can have all the European institutions in Strasbourg and the problem will be resolved.” Met with a chuckle, he said sternly, "I'm very serious."

Editor's note: This story was updated to correct the photo caption.