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EU assembly buys seat in France

STRASBOURG, Dec 17 (AFP) – Facing persistant criticism that it is an enormous waste of EU taxpayers’ money, the European Parliament has taken action – it has bought its second home in France to ensure that it cannot be evicted.

After months of complex negotiations, a contract was finally signed this week to allow the 626 Euro-deputies to breath easily when they make their monthly trip down from Brussels.

Until now the assembly’s curiously-shaped and labyrinthine building, on the outskirts of the Alsatian capital, has been leased from a regional management company which took possession after it was finished in 1998.

But several months ago the Strasbourg edifice – the parliament’s second home after its main base in Brussels, next to the other main EU institutions – started talks with a view to turning from tenant into owner-occupier.

And on Monday night the deal was done: in the presence of French European Affairs Minister Noelle Lenoir, Parliament chief Pat Cox and Strasbourg mayor Fabienne Keller (UMP), the parliament bought its home for EUR 445.6 million.

The deal “is a relief because its an argument that’s been going on for a few years, and is satisfying because the situation… has been resolved thanks to efforts by all concerned,” said Lenoir.

“This shows that the parliament… is now really set up in its own four walls,” she added, noting that the French state contributed EUR 70 million to clinch the deal.

The deal comes only days after a group of EU lawmakers called on European leaders to consider ending what critics call the wasteful absurdity of the Strasbourg parliamentary seat.

“Many citizens think the three working sites are yet another example of the huge cost of the Union’s bureaucracy,” said a letter signed by 126 MEPs, among whom French names were notably absent.

The protesting Euro-MPs lamented that it is “difficult to get to Strasbourg from most European capitals, and many working hours are lost in travelling time.

They estimated at EUR 200 million (USD 240 million) per year the extra cost involved in maintaining the three sites for the assembly, rather than one. The assembly’s secretariat is in Luxembourg.

The French minister was defiant. “Apart from a minority of European lawmakers who continue to attack this building, the vast majority of them are happy in Strasbourg,” she said.

She also underlined the “absolute determination of France and Germany” to maintain the assembly’s home in Strasbourg, which she said is a “city of Franco-German reconciliation.”

Lenoir also reiterated that the French government was currently working on initiatives to “ensure that Strasbourg is accessible from all major European capitals in less than half a day.”

When the sale was agreed in September, a parliament spokesman said it made financial sense over the long term by saving in monthly rent paid to the Strasbourg authorities.

The 20-storey glass-and-steel structure occupies a waterside site of 4.34 hectares, near the Palace of Europe and the European Court of Human Rights. It houses 1,133 offices with room for 750 members of Parliament.


                                                                Subject: France news