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STRASBOURG

‘The EU should not allow the symbol of peace in Europe to become a symbol of waste’

OPINION: It is time to stop moving the EU parliament between Brussels and Strasbourg every month, argues Swedish MEP Anna Maria Corazza Bildt and the Single Seat Steering group.

'The EU should not allow the symbol of peace in Europe to become a symbol of waste'
Anna Maria Corazza Bildt, speaking in the European Parliament on July 5th. Photo: Private

As Members of the European Parliament we time and again are confronted with the same question: why do you accept this carousel of moving the Parliament between Brussels and Strasbourg with all its blatant waste? Time after time emotions go high on this – and rightly so.

It's an old compromise that once located the European Parliament in Strasbourg, although subsequently more and more of its actual day to day work is carried out in Brussels. A protocol to the treaties from 1992 still mandates the Parliament to have session 12 times a year in Strasbourg, and that's where the waste sets in.

And it's not a minor issue. Thousands of people have to be relocated from Brussels to Strasbourg for each of these sessions. Official estimates talk of a cost of at least €114 million annually and that the traveling circus contributes 19,000 tonnes to CO2 emissions every year.

For the EU to be credible we need to be consistent. We must practice what we preach. We also have a responsibility to not let the issue of the seat fall into the hands of populists who use it against the EU.

As elected members of the European Parliament we are powerless to change this, but we have the power to ask the member states for Treaty change under art. 48 of the TEU, for the Parliament to decide on its seat. Year after year we have voted with large majorities to end this wasteful circus, but so far to no avail.

The “Single Seat Campaign” has broad support across party groups and nations. We want a European Parliament more efficient, less polluting and less costly, closer to citizens. We are for democracy, for Europe, for dialogue. Our goal is for the Parliament to decide on when and where to meet.

Strasbourg is indeed a symbol of peace and reconciliation, for us and generations to come, but this powerful symbol is by no means a function of the European Parliament meeting there monthly. If institutions are necessary for the symbolism, this delightful city is already seat of both the Council of Europe and the European Court of Human Rights. It also hosts the common French-German army brigade.

The EU should not allow a symbol of peace in Europe to become a symbol of waste.

We have a duty to our citizens to see that the EU budgets are spent in the wisest way possible, and with budgets getting increasingly tight with the exit of the United Kingdom, there is simply no way in which anyone can defend this meaningless commute of the European Parliament.

This July was important in that the European Parliament for the first time set a debate on its seats in its plenary session, reflecting the increasing pressure on the issue.

The painful process of Brexit will force us to reconsider many issues, notably the budgetary ones. But it must also make us more alert to the concerns of our citizens on issues of wasteful spending and unnecessary bureaucracy.

It also opens up issues related to the location of different EU bodies, and in this process there might well be new opportunities to find solutions acceptable to all – also to France – in order to get a resolution of this issue. We hope, for example, that France will ask for the important European Medicines Agency, based in London, to be located in Strasbourg.

The Single Seat Campaign is presently drawing up an Action Plan looking at the different possibilities of moving this important issue further.

The European Parliament is gradually becoming more and more important. In recent years, statesmen from all over the world have come to address its 752 members, and through them the peoples of Europe. It should also not be forgotten that it has co-legislative powers with the EU governments in the Council of Ministers.

The efficiency of the Parliament clearly calls for an end to the circus, but so does our firm responsibility to the taxpayers and our will to reconnect with the citizens of Europe. There are many things we should spend money on – but certainly not on this wasteful exercise. The European Parliament deserves one seat – and it should be in Brussels.

Of course, the key player is France. Any realistic option should provide France with both economic and political benefits. We are reaching out to France with a positive attitude and offer to engage in a constructive dialogue to find win-win solutions for a better Europe closer to citizens.

Anna Maria Corazza Bildt (EPP, Sweden), on behalf of the Single Seat Steering group.

Vice Chairs Pina Picierno (S&D, Italy), Ashley Fox (ECR, UK), Beatriz Becerra (ALDE, Spain), Dennis De Jong (GUE-NGL, Netherlands) and Ulrike Lunacek (Greens-EFA, Austria).

BREXIT

Anger grows as no solution found yet for in limbo UK drivers in Spain 

British drivers living in Spain are becoming increasingly disgruntled at the lack of solutions two weeks after they were told their UK licences were no longer valid, with the latest update from the UK Embassy suggesting it could still take "weeks" to reach a deal. 

Anger grows as no solution found yet for in limbo UK drivers in Spain 

There is growing discontent among UK licence holders residing in Spain who are currently in limbo, unable to drive in Spain until they either get a Spanish driving licence or a deal is finally reached between Spanish and UK authorities for the mutual exchange of licences post-Brexit.

Since May 1st 2022, drivers who’ve been residents in Spain for more than six months and who weren’t able to exchange their UK licences for Spanish ones cannot drive in Spain.

There are no official stats on how many Britons of the 407,000 UK nationals who are residents in Spain in 2022 are affected; according to the UK Embassy the “majority exchanged” as advised.

But judging by the amount of negative comments the last two updates from the British Embassy in Madrid have received, hundreds if not thousands are stuck without being able to drive in Spain.  

May 12th’s video message by Ambassador Hugh Elliott left many unhappy with the fact that the forecast for a possible licence exchange agreement will be in the “coming weeks”, when two weeks earlier Elliott had spoken of “rapidly accelerating talks”. 

Dozens of angry responses spoke of the “shocking” and “absolutely ridiculous” holdup in negotiations that have been ongoing for more than at least a year and a half, and which the UK Embassy has put down to the fact that Spain is asking the British government to give them access to DVLA driver data such as road offences, something “not requested by other EU Member States”.

Numerous Britons have explained the setbacks not being able to drive in Spain are causing them, from losing their independence to struggling to go to work, the hospital or the supermarket, especially those in rural areas with little public transport.  

“I know personally from all the messages you’ve sent in, just how incredibly disruptive all of this is for many of you,” Elliott said in response. 

“If you are struggling to get around you may find additional advice or support from your local town hall, or charities or community groups in your area and the Support in Spain website is another very useful source of organisations that can provide general support to residents.

“And if your inability to drive is putting you in a very vulnerable situation, you can always contact your nearest consulate for advice.”

There continue to be disparaging opinions in the British community in Spain over whether any pity should be felt for UK licence holders stuck without driving, as many argue they had enough time to register intent to exchange their licences, whilst others clarify that their particular set of circumstances, such as arriving after the December 2020 ‘intent to exchange’ deadline, made this impossible. 

OPINION: Not all Brits in Spain who didn’t exchange UK driving licences are at fault

So is there any light at the end of the tunnel for drivers whose UK licences aren’t valid anymore in Spain or soon won’t be?

“The agreement we’re working towards now will enable UK licence holders, whenever they arrived in Spain or arrive in the future, to exchange their UK licence for a Spanish one without needing to take a practical or a theory test,” Elliott said on Thursday May 12th of the deal they are “fully committed” to achieve.

READ ALSO: How much does it cost to get a Spanish driving licence?

And yet it’s hard for anyone to rest their hopes on this necessarily happening – sooner or later or ever – in part because the embassy advice for those with UK licences for whom it’s imperative to continue driving in Spain is that they should take steps to get their Spanish licence now, while acknowledging that in some places there are “long delays for lessons” and getting your Spanish licence “doesn’t happen overnight”.

READ ALSO: What now for UK licence holders in Spain?

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