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EU lawmakers vote to end their costly 'travelling circus'

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - EU lawmakers voted overwhelmingly on Wednesday to scrap the European Parliament’s second headquarters in Strasbourg, to end what they say is a 200-million-euro-a-year “travelling circus” between the French city and Brussels.

Members of the European Parliament take part in a voting session at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, November 20, 2013. Picture taken with a fisheye lens. REUTERS/Vincent Kessler

But the vote is unlikely to succeed as only a unanimous decision by the EU’s 28 national governments can change the current situation, and France signalled it would veto any move to close what it sees as a symbol of its status as a founding member of the European Union.

At a time of intensified demands for budget cuts across Europe, the majority of members of the European Parliament (MEPs) want to save money by scrapping the seat in Strasbourg which replicates the more regularly used assembly in the Belgian capital.

EU law, negotiated over the years by national governments jockeying with each other to host prestigious and often lucrative institutions, states that the parliament must hold a four-day session once a month in Strasbourg.

That entails 766 MEPs and their staff moving 430 km (270 miles) from Belgium to the eastern French city, which is closer to Munich than to Brussels.

Reams of parliamentary documents must also be shifted and a large number of reporters and lobbyists also have to tag along.

The monthly move is estimated to cost between 156 million and 204 million euros ($275 million) a year and also has an environmental impact that many MEPs find unacceptable.

Roughly 2,400 staff also work in a third parliament seat in Luxembourg.

RIGHT

In the Strasbourg parliament’s cavernous hemicycle, MEPs voted 483 in favour of ditching Strasbourg and Luxembourg, while 141 voted against with 34 abstentions.

“The parliament does not wish to accept this travelling circus which is being imposed upon in it,” Gerald Hafner, a German Green, told a news conference.

“We should have the right to organise ourselves.”

The glass and steel Strasbourg building stands almost vacant for more than 300 days a year and costs 12 million euros to maintain.

French Labour Minister Michel Sapin, visiting the parliament before the vote, said Paris would not agree to close Strasbourg.

“Obviously, France would prefer that there were no change on this point,” he said.

In the latest of several rulings in France’s favour, the European Court of Justice last year annulled a European Parliament decision to reduce the number of sessions in Strasbourg, saying it is for EU governments to decide changes.

Lawmakers still hope to garner enough public support to eventually pressure France to give in, building on a 2006 petition that was endorsed by more than 1 million EU citizens.

Parliament has transformed since its creation in 1952 as a consultative body without legislative power. Today it has equal legislating say with national governments on many issues and is directly elected by citizens of 28 countries, representing 500 million people.

Additional reporting by Gilbert Reilhac in Strasbourg; Editing by Robin Pomeroy

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