Monday, September 20, 2004

A crazy merry-go-round

Any publicity about waste in the European Union is good news, so congratulations to the Sun for highlighting the incredible merry-go-round between the two European parliaments of Brussels and Strasbourg.

"Got EU for wasting £55m", proclaims the headline, with a picture of a truck and trailer loaded with "cantines" arriving in Strasbourg, one of a convoy of fifteen, ready for the session there last week.

According to the Sun, "It is a farcical monthly ritual in which thousands of metal trunk-loads of documents are loaded up and driven 265 miles to the historic French town from Brussels".

If only the Sun had done its homework more thoroughly, and got to look inside some of the trunks, which cost £140,000 a year to transport. We certainly never loaded them with documents – those we actually picked up from the paper office in Strasbourg, and most of the stuff was available on the intranet anyway.

Our used to be packed with office accessories, like staplers, sellotape, blank paper and – all importantly – the kettle, coffee, sugar and mugs. These were all the things we daren’t leave in the office in Strasbourg, as they would go missing. And, at the end of the week, they would be all duly packed up and sent back to Brussels.

The Sun also notes that "732 MEPs and around 3,000 other staff fly to Strasbourg, while 170 more workers and their papers arrive from the EU Parliament's third site 133 miles away in Luxembourg".

Again, the Sun could have done some more homework, and noted that the Commissioners who attend the parliament fly down to Strasbourg – while their luxury limousines are driven down empty from Brussels by their chauffeurs, to pick them up from the airport and take them into town.

Similarly, a luxuriously appointed minibus is driven down from Brussels, to run a local shuttle, taking the MEPs from the airport to the parliament, and then to pick them up from their hotels in the mornings. The staff, of course, use public transport.

But even what the Sun does report is good enough. "And the whole crazy three-centre system", it storms "which experts say costs an extra £55 million a year — exists just to appease the French. The bizarre 48-days-a-year exodus is enshrined in the Amsterdam Treaty and can only be changed by agreement of all 25 member countries".

And, of course, it will not change. The French will see to that, so the crazy merry-go-round will continue.

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