During the course of the normal routine, MEPs - and all of their parliamentary staff and assistants - must make the time and money-consuming monthly trek to Strasbourg to meet certain EU Treaty requirements agreed to by John Major on our behalf. Each September the travelling circus normally hits the road twice in a Brussels-Strasbourg-Brussels-Strasbourg weekly routine. The back to school parliamentarians return from summer recess with the thought of numerous delayed flights at the backs of their minds.
The melancholy feelings of parliamentarians are however the least of the problems with the monthly Strasbourg road show. The cost to the tax-payer is immense: upwards of two hundred million euros a year - an expense which is unjustifiable at any time, but even more so in a time of pressure on public sector finances. The impact on the environment is also huge, with the parliament leaving a dirty carbon footprint for no objective reason. In every possible sense, the Strasbourg seat is unsustainable. Which is why this year MEPs have been able to return to work with a small spring in their steps. The Parliament last year decided that, instead of September being a double Strasbourg whammy, the plenary would be held over two sessions in a single week in October. This would fulfil the Treaty requirement of meeting twelve times per year in Strasbourg - whilst saving MEPs that second September trip to Alsace, and saving taxpayers some €15 million and the environment 1600 tonnes of CO2 emissions.
The parliamentarian joy may however by short lived. After only a few days back for the new term, the Advocate General to the European Court of Justice delivered his opinion in a case brought by the French Government objecting to the Parliament's scheduling innovation. The two-sessions-in-a-week plan is, he says, "inconsistent"; the October calendar represents a single session which has been "artificially split in two". Accordingly, he avers, the Parliament's calendar is illegal and, presumably, the second September trip should be reinstated. If a strict interpretation of the law says that the calendar is illegal then it is the law which needs changed, not the parliamentary schedule.
In the 14 years since I was first elected to the European Parliament I have seen various initiatives taken to end the monthly trip to Strasbourg. I was one of the original members of the One Seat campaign - a campaign which has successfully gathered over 1 million signatures of EU citizens who are also determined to end the waste. All efforts to date have however been unsuccessful and the Parliament remains the only legislature in the world with no say over where it meets.
Fortunately the Advocate General's opinion is not the final say and the case will proceed to the Court of Justice, with a judgement expected in November (clearly too late for this year's calendar). The Advocate has called for "a dynamic interpretation of the Treaties" on this matter - and it is to be hoped that the Court shows more dynamism that he did himself.
But in the longer term more than a dynamic interpretation is needed - and the curtains must be brought down on this wasteful Strasbourg road show.