The Problem with the EU - On Rails

The European Parliament's commitment to farce continues unabated.

The Sunday Times revealed yesterday that a dedicated train service to ferry MEPs from Brussels to Strasbourg will be launched next month, whipping the 732 Euro parliamentarians at high speed between these two centres of EU politics. Each trip will cost the taxpayer in excess of £158,000, and in a show of solidarity with the people they serve, the fare-paying public will be banned, forced onto the much slower, considerably less comfortable regular "cattle truck" services.

The decision to provide a train for MEPs' exclusive use has the requisite 'green' justifications; MEPs have so far flown between the two cities. Cost wise too, the move is unlikely to be any more expensive than the previous arrangement of reimbursing air travel. But such side-issues miss the point entirely: the real problem here lies in the traveling circus itself, the absurd system that sees the European Parliament split between three European cities; Brussels (home of the Parliament's Committees), Strasbourg (the seat of the Parliament) and Luxembourg (where the Parliament's departments and secretariat are based).

This ridiculous and expensive anachronism is defended in public on the grounds that this multi-national institutional structure reflects the multi-national nature of Europe's people. Quite apart from the ridiculous notion that Belgium, France and Luxembourg represent the 'diversity' of 27 European states, this fallacy shields national governments from dealing with the truth; that the European Parliament's travelling circus persists, by train or plane, only because France and Luxembourg fight furiously to maintain their involvement in the EU's lucrative institutional framework. It is a wasteful and ridiculous system, but Luxembourg and Strasbourg are unlikely to relinquish their piece of the EU pie.

If such waste is built into the institutional structure of an organisation, waste will be in endemic in all areas of its activities. One positive institutional reform European leaders could make at this time then, is to bring an end to the division of key European institutions between nations, and consolidate them in one European city. MEPs and their staff complain that the current arrangement is ludicrous, and if even MEPs think a bit of subsidised travel is unnecessary, something must be seriously wrong with the system.

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