New legislative hall under way for European Parliament
With disruptive regularity, hundreds of secretaries and officials of the European Communities Parliament based here pack up their typewriters and files to be hauled a few hundred miles away to the French city of Strasbourg for a regular session of the Parliament.
This convoy has been going through the same commute for several years and on a steady monthly basis since the first direct election of the Parliament last June. Luxembourg, which has housed the staff of 1,500 and has shared the actual parliamentary sessions with Strasbourg since 1965, des not have a chamber large enough to hold the newly expanded membership but is currently erecting a new facility to fill that need.
Luxembourg hopes that once this chamber is completed in June at least some of the Parliament meetings can be held here once again. Strasbourg city fathers, backed by the French government, are just as eager to have all meetings in their own new facility.
To complicate the situation, there is a strong current of opinion in the communities that the entire European Parliament and its sessions logically belong in Brussels, where most of the European Communities institutions are headquartered.
This struggle for possession of the EC institutions has been waged between Luxembourg, Brussels, Strasbourg, and a few other European cities ever since the grouping was set up in 1958. While much of the current controversy revolves around the Parliament staff and meetings, Luxembourg has fared well in this administrative derby.
It is the virtually undisputed home of the communities' financial agencies such as the European Investment Bank, the Court of Auditors, and the statistical office. It is also the base for the European Court of Justice, the EC Court of Appeals, and a few more minor agencies.
The tradition dates back to the founding of the first joint European organization, the Coal and Steel Community, which was placed in Luxembourg because it was a good compromise location. When the organizational institutions of that community and the European Economic Community (or Common Market) were merged in 1965 in Brussels, Luxembourg fought to retain the Parliament and the financial institutions.
The establishment of these organizations in the country has brought Luxembourg additional prestige and revenue. It is generally felt to be not completely coincidental that its two leading political figures, Pierre Werner and Gaston Thorn, have been leading figures in the European political spectrum.
"It's a combinational of their being both more interested in Europe because f the institutions in their country and getting some added weight from this situation," commented one veteran Common Market official.
Mr. Werner was the author of a now largely discarded 1970 plan for a full economic and monetary union between the Ec member countries, which nevertheless inspired the establishment of the European monetary system last year. The younger Mr. Thorn has also been an articulate and highly visible participant in EC policymaking both as Luxembourg's foreign minister and prime minister. Until recently he was also reported to be one of the leading candidates for the presidency of the Commission of the European Communities when that post is up for renewal next year.
While Luxembourg and the other small EC countries genuinely see the community as being of clear political and economic advantage to them, the actual presence of the joint institutions in Luxembourg also represents a direct payoff to the small Luxembourg economy. The several thousand Ec staffers who live and work in the small grand duchy provide a recessionproof payroll of some significance. The constant enlargement and construction associated with the EC organizations there have also been a boost to Luxembourg construction firms and other businesses.
The Kirschberg Plateau, just outside Luxembourg City, has become a permanent construction site, teeming with the activity of building, and housing a modern international complex. In recent years new glass-cubed offices have been erected or started for the European Court of Justice, the European Investment Bank, and the Parliamentary staff, other installations on the outskirts of town, and other smaller units inside the city itself. This new Kirschberg complex of modern architectural structures gives the area an appearance of a capital similar to Brasilia, Brazil. But they are detached enough from the more medieval city center not to clash aesthetically.
The constant traffic of politicians and civil servants between the other EC capitals and Luxembourg has also provided Luxembourg with an institutional type of tourism and character that has become an accepted and intergral part of the society.
This is why the country's leaders and business countinue to be strenously attached to retaining the fidgety European Parliament here and to expanding its accommodations for other EC institutions as well.