Sunday, 20 September 2009

Five good reasons to leave Strasbourg scaffolding behind us

It's Sunday night after living in the bubble of a Strasbourg week and my sanity(?)has begun to return.

Here are my five reasons why we must work to reform not only the macro problems of the EU but also continue to fight the micro issue of the Strasbourg parliament itself.

1. Waste of taxpayers money. Much has already been written by previous members from all parties on the waste of money, see here, here and even here. In today's austere times when public spending is under the spotlight it is even more unacceptable for elected members of any chamber to put up with such a symbol of waste.

2. Waste of time. OK this might sound a bit of a whinge but its a nightmare to travel to for work. Strasbourg is an outstandingly beautiful city and steeped in history. I would recommend anyone a visit. Most MEPs can to get Brussels by direct trains or flights but not so Strasbourg. Unlike many others I spent only 11 1/2 hours travelling this week and was able to squeeze in some constituency and office work on Monday morning and Friday. Many members spend both the Monday and the Friday just getting to and from the parliament, let alone staff and assistants.

3. The political frenzy. I hadn't realised before becoming elected how the Strasbourg session takes possession of the political wheel. When Westminster sits votes are spread out over many weeks. In the EP a month's worth of negotiations get squeezed into a tiny number of voting days. This week I have seen that reasoned negotiating positions that had been listened to in Brussels can suddenly find themselves fighting against the short term newspaper strapline or TV headline. Yes a week is a long time in politics but the cameras run dangerously faster in Strasbourg - It's only my second Strasbourg session and already I have seen that good sense can disappear to short termism.

4. The impact on the city itself. On my way back to the airport I shared a car with a new Swedish Socialist MEP. We discussed the circus of the parliament. She was eloquent in her concerns for the city itself. "Why does the city need to live with this?" she said "Would it not be better for them to have stability and a permanent public service institution, instead of the 40 odd days a year the MEPs are present." Looking over the headrest I could see how uncomfortable our driver felt with the conversation. His income no doubt reliant on our few days. In his face I saw why it would take a brave French politician to concede ground in the Strasbourg debate - but they would have a united political front from all other countries behind them.

and finally
5. Is the building still falling down?... The Houses of Parliament were built by the Victorians, construction of the US Capitol began in 1793 so the Strasbourg parliament buildings are mere babes. Last year the roof fell in. My own 11th floor office is in a building opened only 10 years ago. I'm not spaced out by tall buildings - I used to work on a 46th floor but I wont get into the far right lift. I doubt if the drop and recapture exercise it performs between floors 10 and 6 wouldn't get through the laxest of health and safety officers in the UK .. Interesting scaffolding has begun to appear. Even my children's school writes a long letter to parents when practically a single pole of scaffolding is erected. But here it has arrived without a word. UMMMM

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