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Debate Rages Over Parliament

Brussels bids to centralize EC

IT'S called "the parliament that isn't one." On the site of an old brewery near Leopold Park here, a huge complex of offices, meeting rooms, and apartments is rising. At its heart is a building housing a semicircle auditorium with more than 700 seats, and a top-of-the-line interpretive center, capable of handling 12 languages.

Sound like a meeting site for the 12-nation European Parliament?

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That is exactly what it is, but given the emotional and (so far) intractable politics of permanently locating the European Community's institutions, it's best not to call it that.

Although EC business has been conducted in Brussels in an increasingly concentrated fashion since the late 1950s, the placing of the EC's executive Commission here has remained temporary, as have the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, and various other offices in Luxembourg.

As far back as 1958, European leaders were charged with finding a permanent home for EC institutions. But for more than 30 years, national pride and jealousy have made any solution impossible.

"The ideal solution would be to have 12 important institutions, one for each member state," suggests a Commission official, only half in jest.

The issue is holding up the establishment of several new EC institutions, including an environmental agency and a trademarks office. It can only be resolved by unanimous vote of the EC's members.

But France says it will veto any compromise that reduces Strasbourg's parliamentary role. And Luxembourg, which in a 1965 vote was given the right to house all major EC financial institutions, says it will only accept a plan that gives it the trademarks office and the anticipated European central bank. Others prefer to place the latter in Frankfurt.

While the debate rages, the European Parliament, a majority of whose members prefer to remain near the de facto seat of EC power here, continues to do a cumbersome and wasteful Brussels-Strasbourg shuttle.

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Despite the rhetoric, Strasbourg appears resigned to seeing its parliamentarian role reduced, though probably not eliminated in the short term. Possible compromise solutions include placing in Strasbourg one of the new EC institutions or the planned parliamentary assembly of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe.

Brussels officials, backed by a growing number of Euro-parliamentarians and other EC officials, say a smooth and democratic functioning of the Community depends on clustering the EC's three main decisionmaking institutions: the Commission, the Council of Ministers, and the Parliament.

With a new Council building rising across the street from the Commission, the first two anchors of the triangle appear to be in place. The Leopold Park building would seem to be the third. For now, however, Brussels cannot officially call itself the capital of Europe.

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