European Parliament president says assembly to stay in Strasbourg

The European Parliament will not leave Strasbourg, France, to move permanently to Brussels despite a petition signed by more than 500,000 people that says maintaining two seats for the assembly is a waste of money, the legislature's president said Thursday.

"The European Council does not wish in any way to change the existing setup," Josep Borrell said at a two-day EU summit. The council is the EU's decision body consisting of the 25 nations' government leaders.

Senior EU parliamentarians had asked Borrell to raise the issue on the sidelines of the summit with Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency.

Borrell did so in writing before the meeting, and Schuessel told him a permanent move to Brussels was "not on the agenda," Borrell told reporters.

Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende also discussed the issue with several EU leaders on the summit's sidelines, Dutch diplomats said. He faces pressure from Dutch lawmakers who want the 732-member EU assembly moved out of Strasbourg for cost-saving reasons.

EU lawmakers have long asked that their assembly be permanently moved to Brussels home of the European Commission, the EU's council of ministers and a press corps of more than 1,000 journalists.

The 732 members of the European Parliament and their staff work out of a massive complex of buildings in the Belgian capital, but commute 450 kilometers (280 miles) to Strasbourg for four-day plenary sessions, as do European commissioners, who address the parliament there.

The legislature's secretariat is in Luxembourg.

This arrangement was spelled out in a 1997 EU treaty signed by the heads of EU governments, meeting France's demands that it be the site of an EU institution. A parliamentary report has said the nine buildings in three cities cost European taxpayers Ђ200 million (US$258 million) a year more than if the legislature were based in just one place.

Borrell said EU leaders are not interested in changing the treaty, which would involve wrangling with France a key architect of the European Union, reports AP.

O.Ch.