EUOBSERVER i / BRUSSELS - The French foreign ministry has told MEPs that whether or not they go to Strasbourg is none of their business in reaction to the latest anti-Strasbourg campaign.
"The question of the seat [of the EU i parliament] is legally fixed by the treaties: these are binding on EU countries, and the institutions," the spokesman of the Quai d'Orsay, Bernard Valero, said in a written statement on Friday afternoon (11 February).
Referring to a survey out on Thursday - A Tale of Two Cities - which claimed that over 90 percent of MEPs and their staff would like to hold meetings in Brussels only, he said the report is a "surprise" and "regrettable."
In an unusual move in protocol terms, the Quai d'Orsay spoke out on behalf of the EU parliament president, Jerzy Buzek i. "This initiative has nothing to do with the European Parliament [in an official sense], and, in any case certainly not with its president, Jerzy Buzek," Mr Valero went on.
The French communique addressed specific gripes about working conditions raised by the new survey. It said France is making efforts to "facilitate the work" of MEPs and to "improve the accessibility and attractiveness" of the city.
On a grander note, it said the practice of putting EU institutions in various member states "reflects the diversity of the European Union."
British Liberal member Edward McMillan-Scott orchestrated the anti-Strasbourg research. An unnamed UK government spokesman, cited by leading British dailies, backed him up on Thursday, calling Strasbourg "a huge and unnecessary waste of time."
French diplomats decided to issue their statement primarily because another member state, the UK, got involved.
The Quai d'Orsay mentioned Mr Buzek because newswires on Thursday quoted him in a way that looked as if he backed the idea. It sees the McMillan-Scott report itself as a "chestnut" - an old story with nothing new in it that falls on the ground once a year in due season.
For his part, Mr Buzek does not want to get involved. His press team briefed reporters on Friday that he is "aware" of the criticisms of Strasbourg, but "knows" it is a decision for member states.
A French diplomat said that nobody has raised the question of scrapping the Strasbourg seat in the EU Council, the member states' forum, for many years.
In its current form, the EU treaty says that "the European Parliament shall have its seat in Strasbourg where the 12 periods of monthly plenary sessions, including the budget session, shall be held. The periods of additional plenary sessions shall be held in Brussels. The committees of the European Parliament shall meet in Brussels. The General Secretariat of the European Parliament and its departments shall remain in Luxembourg."