Former Editor-in-Chief of Taurin, Magazin der jungen Europäer.
Throughout Europe, “Brussels” has become the symbol of all the EU failings: centralisation, aloofness from the citizen, lack of legitimacy, lack of legibility. One of the reasons why the “Brussels consensus” has been rejected by European citizens (in recent referendums and elections) is the inbreeding of the EU élite, whereby politicians, civil servants, stagiaires, lobbyists, all live together, disconnected from the everyday life of ordinary citizens. This assessment is not a prejudice or a caricature. It is based on personal experience.
Of course, much the same could be said of any capital. But the expectations laid on Brussels should be higher, because the EU is not a traditional, politically integrated, Nation-State where citizens tolerate their country’s democratic deficit. Therefore the “ivory tower” syndrome is much more harmful to European integration than in any Member State.
Besides, not all federalists, let alone all Europeans, want the EU to follow the mould of twentieth century Nation-States, be they federal ones. Many want it to initiate a new type of polity, which would do away with the blood-tainted principle of sovereignty. So why necessarily copy federal States and their centralised institutions?
Physically separating EU institutions is one of the answers to this new eurosclerosis we are in. As South Africa rightly understood with its three capital cities (Pretoria/Government, Cape Town/Legislative, Bloemfontein/Judiciary), it would clarify in the public debate who one is talking about and prevent journalistic shortcuts such as “Brussels decided...”
The Council of Ministers should remain close to the Commission because it plays a major role in executive matters: national representatives participate in Commission working groups before it proposes a draft legislation; they are involved in the implementation of primary legislation through the comitology procedure; and they are central to executive decision-making in Justice and Home Affairs and Foreign and Defence policies.
The Parliament in Strasbourg would mean a higher media profile to its work: today, “Brussels correspondents” have too much to do with the other institutions and do not bother to travel to the Alsatian capital every now and then. In Strasbourg, EU media would be forced to have permanent dedicated journalists to cover the EP’s work (and, by the way, ensure a better coverage of the Council of Europe and of the European Court of Human Rights).
And they would do it, because what motivates the media is not where the Parliament is, but whether it is powerful or not. Power is a matter of competence, not of geographical location. If its competences were stronger, having the EP away from Brussels would not prevent MEPs from summoning Commission or Council officials or travelling to Brussels from time to time.
The entailed costs would be much lower than the current monthly transhumance, especially since the EP would save the costly rental fees of Brussels’ Caprice des Dieux (which, by the way, might easily be used by the Council, the premises of which were fit for intergovernmental bargaining in the EU15, not for an EU25 modern and transparent parliamentary Assembly).
Strasbourg, the very symbol of European Reconciliation after having changed five times its nationality between 1870 and 1945, has many assets: already home of many European institutions, MEPs would enjoy the network of more than 50 embassies and consulates, international schools, a franco-german cultural and linguistic environment, a lively cultural life...
Much remains to be done, though, from train and air connections to more housing and hotel facilities. But such investments can only be carried out once the Parliament and EU leaders have made the only choice that is true to what Europe stands for by seating only in Strasbourg.
See also : For one seat for of the European Parliament - Brussels by Anders Ekberg