Whilst the Prime Minister was defiantly telling European Leaders that Britain would not be paying an extra £1.7bn on top of our huge contribution to the EU budget, all Labour could come up with was mealy mouthed attacks on the Strasbourg Parliament.
Arch-Europhile Richard Corbett MEP, who was reelected to the European Parliament after losing to the BNP in 2009, chose to cover Labour’s tracks over its voting record on the European budget last week by saying that the Tories should be focusing on the matter of the Parliament’s second home.
But Mr Corbett, author of the European Parliament’s report supporting the European Constitution and the former right hand man of Herman Van Rompuy, knows full well that even if David Cameron did succeed in stopping the French from vetoing Strasbourg it would come nowhere near meeting the new costs.
The Strasbourg parliament was included in the Treaty of Amsterdam – unlike the Brussels parliament where MEPs are based – as a sop to the French to start importing British beef again in the 1990s. Every year when MEPs vote on the European Parliament’s agenda they vote against the 40 or so days in the Strasbourg Parliament by an unprecedented amount.
And every year the French veto the decision in the Council of Ministers. There is even a one million strong petition against the travelling circus which has been ignored; something Mr Corbett chose to ignore in his interviews yesterday.
In a statement released after the European Parliament reversed every single one of the cuts proposed by the Council in the EU Budget, the delegation spokesman Clare Moody said:
“David Cameron has no strategy to deliver an EU budget that benefits the UK, he is alienated and has failed to deliver reform or cut areas such as the common agricultural policy.
“He has also failed to put an end to the parliament’s wasteful second seat in Strasbourg, a shambolic waste of money that the Conservatives helped create. More than £150 million a year is spent on having a monthly plenary session in Strasbourg – with the 818km round trip creating 19,000 tonnes of CO2 each session.
“Labour MEPs want to see real budget reform in the EU we want to see an end to wasteful agricultural subsidies, an end to vanity projects like the European House of History. The monthly trip to Strasbourg that John Major’s government signed us up to also needs to be abolished. It is important that added value is placed at the centre of EU budget decision making, we want to see areas that do not bring real benefits to our constituents cut.”
But it is not simply up to any Prime Minister to cancel the Strasbourg jaunt except, of course, the French who veto the decision year after year.
The Alsace town, chosen to host the main Parliament seat because of the toing and froing over French and German ownership, makes a huge amount of money as Parliamentarians, staff, officials, press and lobby groups all descent on the City where restaurants become fully booked and hotel rooms are block booked up to five years in advance.
In 2006 it was discovered that the Parliament buildings, which were rented from Dutch company SCI Erasme by the City and then sublet to the Parliament, had been inflating the rent it charged by 15-20 per cent. But even though it had been happening since 1979, it took this long to come to light. The Mayor of Strasbourg, Fabienne Keller, threatened to sue anyone who accused the City of corruption.
The former French President Nicolas Sarkozy has stated that its seat is “non negotiable”. In early 2011 the Parliament voted to scrap one of the Strasbourg sessions by holding two within a single week. The Mayor of Strasbourg officially reacted by saying “we will counter-attack by upturning the adversary’s strength to our own profit, as a judoka would do.” As of July 2011, an absolute majority of MEPs are in favour of a single seat.
When asked to confirm that he knew that David Cameron was unable to stop the visits to Strasbourg and it would take the French to make that decision, Richard Corbett refused to comment.