On their website, the Belgian party N-VA (member of the European Conservatives and Reformists) has stated that the monthly move of the European Parliament (EP) between Brussels and Strasbourg costs the European taxpayers 200 million euros per year. A lot of money which according to N-VA is anything but an example of good governance. The party does not mention any calculation method; our research shows that the statement is mostly false.
In 1992, the Member States of the European Union stipulated that the European Parliament would hold twelve plenary sessions each year in Strasbourg, on the symbolic border between France and Germany. The Members of the European Parliament and their staff (about 4,000 passengers in total) then take the train, car or plane along with their documents to meet for four days. When there are no meetings in Strasbourg, the buildings are abandoned, and only a small group of employees is present.
What are N-VA’s sources?
There are many various calculations to be found online on the cost of the Strasbourg sitting, ranging from 55 million to 203 million. N-VA deputy spokesman Xavier Lesenne reveals that N-VA obtains their estimate of 200 million euros on a November 2013 resolution.
In this resolution, the European Parliament mentions an estimate of 169 to 203 million euros annually. For this, they refer to a report by the Secretary-General of the European Parliament from 2002. According to the parliament, this calculation was still the most correct and recent one in 2013. These figures include the cost of renting the buildings and maintenance, technical equipment and furniture, staff and other operating expenses (such as telephone subscriptions and insurance). Meanwhile, these figures are no longer up to date in 2019.
2014: A new study
In the meantime, the European Court of Auditors (ECA) carried out a further analysis of the potential savings if all meetings were held in Brussels, following a request from the Parliament. Their estimate of the cost of the monthly move is 113.800.000 euro, which is 86,2 million euros lower than what N-VA claims. Between 2002 and 2014, the situation has mainly changed according to the ECA because the European Union bought its buildings in Strasbourg and therefore no longer has to pay rent.
The press officer of the European Court of Auditors, Damijan Fišer, confirms that after 2014 no further research was carried out by the Court of Auditors. To be correct, N-VA should have relied on these more recent data from the ECA, rather than on the older documents.
Conclusion: After we had contacted them, N-VA admitted that they should have used more recent figures since the party claimed that the monthly move of the EP costs 200 million euros. However, the European Court of Auditors calculated the costs of travelling around 86,2 million less. But the party maintains its opinion that this ‘travelling circus’ does not bring any added value and entails irresponsible costs to taxpayers.
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RESEARCH | ARTICLE © Nelke Roose & Yannick Verbesselt, Thomas More University of Applied Sciences, BE
The anual moving cost is according to the newer data 113 Mio. EUR per year. This is still significant expenditure. Even more disturbing is the lack of audit data beyond 2014! Is there any new data available about the monthly move of the European Parliament (EP) between Brussels and Strasbourg? What is the environmental impact of the move? How many Members of the European Parliament (and their staff) take the car exactly? Are there estimates of the CO2 emissions caused by the monthly move?
So based on the statement “Between 2002 and 2014, the situation has mainly changed according to the ECA because the European Union bought its buildings in Strasbourg and therefore no longer has to pay rent.” the 200m euros included 86.2 million euros to rent the Strasbourg buildings. The author seems to suggest there are no costs associated with the Strasbourg buildings now? No maintenance, no insurance, no running costs. They also ignore the cost to the EU of buying the buildings because by not using Strasbourg that would have been saved plus the 113.8 million euros per year.