Paperwork

One fine pastime an EU correspondent has, when there’s nothing else to do, is to read the questions from Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) to the EU Commission, which are published every now and then – together with the answers from the Commissioners – whenever the printing room has filled its capacity, I suppose; the latest bunch of Q and A is about half an inch thick.

Still, it’s certainly amusing reading, not least when you sense the ill-concealed fury expressed in the questions – the MEPs are a frustrated lot – and because of the just as ill-concealed attempts by the Commissioners to answer without actually saying anything.

No issue is too trivial. Whistleblower Paul van Buitenen MEP wants to know why the EU’s anti-fraud office OLAF is so aggressively incompetent, why he doesn’t get any response to his questions, and why those who have leaked the information on OLAF’s lack of competence are being persecuted. Caroline Lucas MEP is being informed how many journeys Commission staff hade to make to the Parliament’s sessions in Strasbourg – 3,500 last year, in spite of the presence of such inventions as e-mail, fax and telephone, at a cost of EUR 2.4 million, it turns out. Out of these, 55 per cent decided they needed to fly, 35 per cent were happy to go by car, and only seven per cent were environmental-friendly enough to take the train, the response sums up, which must mean that there are three per cent of the travellers who either walk from Brussels to Strasbourg or get lost on the way.

Maybe the Commission has become so large these days that doesn’t notice if 95 people go AWOL. Don’t tell the staff. It might be detrimental to their morale.

Anyway.

The question is, though, whether Christopher Heaton-Harris MEP doesn’t walk away with some kind of prize this time, as he contributes with a fine nugget, asking how many tonnes of paper the Commission used during 2004-2006.

1,703 tonnes in Brussels and 254 tonnes in Luxemburg in 2006, Commissioner Siim Kallas patiently responds, adding figures for the two preceding years that show that the Commission is actually munching less and less A4 office paper; its appetite has dropped by some 250 tonnes during that period. The Commission recycled about twice as much, Siim Kallas adds, because the recycling figures includes paper and cardboard coming from outside the Commission, such as packaging material, publications, documents from other institutions (and, I suppose, protest letters from the general public and odd questions from MEPs.)

So now you know: The Brussels Paper Tiger is actually getting easier on the environment. But we do not know how thirsty it is, however, because the next question from MEP Heaton-Harris – “How many bottles of water were consumed by staff at the European Commission in 2006?” is met with the response “The figures… are being sent direct to the Honourable Member and to Parliament’s Secretariat [sic]”.

I wonder what the Honourable MEP intends to do with them.

The Gas-Guzzling Travelling Circus

This week, the EU Parliament holds its monthly session in Strasbourg. Strasbourg, France, that is. Although being based in Brussels and having built a monstrous castle at the top of a hill there, they travel once a month to another ghastly castle to convene. This building – erected solely for the Parliament – is then EMPTY for the remaining 307 days each year.

The rest of the year, 785 Members of the European Parliament (MEPs), 1,220 officials, and countless hordes of journalists, lobyists and other creatures travel from Brussels to Strasbourg and back again for week-long sessions. The MEPs alone need 15 lorries to haul all their documents back and forth each month, as we all understand is necessary in this day and age of e-mail.
Oh, yes, and I forgot the 525 people who travel to Strasbourg from Luxemburg, where the Parliament’s administrative offices so wisely have been located.

The cost for this travelling circus amounts to millions of euros alone. If you only count in money, that is.

The EU has recently decided to cut greenhouse gases by 20 per cent. A couple of EU Parliamentarians therefore amused themselves by investigating the environmental cost for this madness, and today announce that the CO2 emissions from all this is at least 20,000 tonnes per year. You can read more about it in this excellent publication, one of the best news sources on all things EU.

So, why doesn’t the EU Parliament stop this? The answer is simple: They want to, but they do not have the power to change it.

That’s food for thought. The only directly elected institution in the EU is so aggressively powerless that it can’t even take a decision on where to house itself.

Now you might understand why I usually don’t bother to travel to Strasbourg to cover what they are doing.

One million people signed a petition some time ago to put an end to this. But such a decision has to be taken unanimously by the member states. And there’s one country that just won’t give up.

I’ll leave it to you to figure out which one.