On August 7th, the roof fell in — literally — at the European parliament in Strasbourg. The vast space-age debating chamber, known as the “Hemicycle”, was commissioned in 1999, and seats 750 MEPs, plus staff and officials from the Commission and the European Council. The Strasbourg parliament was built as an expression of French pride, at a total cost of around $800 million. Yet up to 10% of its elaborate sculpted ceiling, spangled with electric lights, came tumbling down without warning, less than ten years after the building was opened.
Fortunately no-one was hurt, but if the accident had occurred while the building was in use, injuries and even fatalities would have been likely.
Despite desperate attempts, led by French President Nicolas Sarkozy, to make repairs ahead of the parliament’s first Strasbourg session after the August holiday, scheduled for Sept 1st, it has proved impossible to complete the work on time, so the session has had to be transferred to Brussels. It is now hoped that the Hemicycle may be ready for the second September session, Sept 22/25. However amid rumours that asbestos has been discovered in the débris, the date for re-opening could be further delayed.
This move has highlighted the absurdity and waste of the parliament’s regular monthly commute between its two seats in Brussels to Strasbourg. The annual cost of this travelling circus, just for the commuting, is a quarter of a billion dollars, while the transportation involves 90,000 tons of unnecessary CO2 emissions. Many MEPs, including myself and Chris Heaton-Harris, have been campaigning for years to end this wasteful practice, and hope that the Strasbourg roof collapse will add impetus to their campaign.
If we can switch one session to Brussels, we can switch them all, and save the tax-payer a packet. This farcical commuting is a metaphor for the whole EU project. Like so many EU policies, it is impossible to justify, yet impossible to change. With luck, the roof falling in will prove to be a metaphor for the future of the EU.
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