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Petition launched to end EU parliament "circus"

Written by: Staff

BRUSSELS, May 10 (Reuters) European Union lawmakers launched a petition today to end the so-called ''travelling circus'' of the European Parliament being in both Brussels and the French city of Strasbourg.

Commuting between Brussels, where the EU legislature holds all its committee sessions, and Strasbourg costs more than 200 million euros (3 million) a year and is a source of much public scorn directed at the EU assembly.

The Campaign for Parliament Reform (CPR), represented by over 100 European deputies (MEPs) from 14 countries, launched a Internet-based petition to win 1 million signatures calling for an end to end Strasbourg's 12, 4-day plenary sessions a year.

''It's not even the money issue,'' German Liberal deputy and CPR chairman, Alexander Alvaro, told Reuters.

''When George Bush came to Brussels last year, where were the MEPs? -- Strasbourg -- and that about sums it all up,'' said Alvaro of the U.S. president's trip last February.

France has long fought to preserve the Strasbourg seat of the assembly, the only major EU body located on French soil, despite protests by lawmakers, most vociferously the British.

But many German MEPs, especially those living close to the French border, also favour Strasbourg.

Any change to the current system would require a change to the European Union's treaties. But Alvaro said the European Commission, the EU's executive body, could raise any issue which receives the backing of 1 million signatures.

RENT HIKE? Today's launch came on the eve of a meeting of the European Parliament's political leaders to discuss the issue.

The Socialist group floor leader Martin Schulz, a German Social Democrat, wrote to Parliament President Josep Borrell last week, urging him to raise the matter with the 25 EU leaders at a summit scheduled for June.

But some doubt whether the move was genuine.

''Schulz is purely playing to the gallery and in particular his British members, deep in the knowledge that EU leaders have bigger fish to fry and this issue will be kicked in to the long grass once again,'' a parliament source said.

Parliament leaders are also to discuss on Thursday allegations that Strasbourg charged too much rent for the parliament. Two weeks ago it emerged the French city may have overcharged rent by 2.7 million euros a year for 25 years.

Diplomats told Reuters last week French officials have been privately mulling whether to relinquish the parliament in return for other compensation for France.

''The French should be compensated and we have done research on this,'' said Alvaro, whose group is suggesting that the EU's proposed Institute of Technology be situated in Strasbourg.

''This makes better sense as Strasbourg would benefit all year round. Another concept is to have the EU's big summits there,'' he said.

Reuters CH DB2347

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