Brussels Briefing – 25/08/2008

MEPs have just been informed by the Secretary General of the European Parliament that the roof of the main debating chamber collapsed on the evening of 7th August.

Thankfully, as the parliament was closed for the summer recess, no-one was injured, although 10% of the ceiling has apparently fallen into the main hemicycle, causing extensive damage. The chamber is regularly occupied by more than 1500 Euro MPs, interpreters, staff and visitors, so the consequences of such an accident occurring during a parliamentary session are too awful to contemplate.

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This latest disaster to hit the Strasbourg Parliament must surely sound the death knell for the on-going farce which forces Europe’s 785 MEPs and around 4000 staff to decant from Brussels once a month and make the 300 mile trip to Strasbourg, only to return again to Brussels four days later. The travelling circus has to stop. It costs EU taxpayers over £140 million a year simply to transport the thousands of trunks containing our papers and working documents. It adds a colossal 20,000 tonnes of additional carbon dioxide to the atmosphere annually, at a time when the EU has pledged to cut CO2 by 20% by 2020. And worst of all, it means taxpayers have to foot the bill to maintain a huge parliamentary building and offices, complete with sophisticated IT and communication systems and a large workforce of security guards and maintenance staff, which is used for a total of only 48 days a year. It lies empty for the other 317 days!

MEPs have a perfectly adequate parliament building in Brussels. It is only French pride and prejudice which forces us to make the monthly trip to Strasbourg 12 times each year. France routinely uses its veto in the Council of Ministers to block any attempt to centralise all of our work in Brussels. Now the ceiling has literally caved in on this French farce. Hopefully the hole in the roof will allow a little light to fall on any future debate on whether to abandon Strasbourg once and for all.