0 MEPs On The Move: Madness Of 'Strasbourg Shift'
25 May 2016 - Once a month the European Parliament moves from Brussels to Strasbourg at a cost of £150m a year as lorries transport paperwork.
Perception or reality; everything wrong with the EU is encapsulated in one word - 'Brussels'.
But how does 'Brussels' actually work? What does it do for the UK? Does it really impose its laws on us?
An attempt to answer those questions requires a journey five hours south of Brussels to the French city of Strasbourg.
Why? Because once a month, for just four days, the European Parliament moves city.
All 751 of its MEPs and everyone else who works at the European Parliament move offices and work from one city to another.
At a cost of £150m a year, the staff arrive in Strasbourg by train, plane and car. Their paperwork - crate loads of it - are driven down from Brussels in a fleet of lorries.
We watch the spectacle at Strasbourg station where a chartered train pulls in from Brussels. From there, it's a bus to the parliament.
Like its sibling in Brussels, the parliament building is vast and impressive. The number of tourists is striking.
The European Parliament has a cross-generational draw. Flocks of schoolchildren take selfies, elderly retirees stare at the glass fronted structure, a group of Czech teenagers sing. There's a real sense of a European patriotism.
"When we are together, we are strong... but we have to stay together." an elderly German tourist tells me.
The chamber inside is huge. There is a seat for each of the 751 MEPs. They sit, not according to nationality, but are grouped dependent on their political stance.
It is a forum of consensus and compromise. They debate and decide on proposals put to them by another EU institution - the executive arm - the European Commission.
Looking down at the chamber from the public gallery, a Parliament insider points out the diversity among MEPs: among them, a former Miss Italy, a convicted IRA bomber-turned politician, a champion poker player and a county cricketer from the West Midlands called Dan Dalton.
Mr Dalton is one of 73 British MEPs who represent the UK in the EU. His day begins at a committee meeting about an EU/America trade deal known as TTIP. It's controversial and taking years to negotiate.
Getting 28 EU countries to agree a deal which works for them all and America is hard. It is the sort of deal that some say Britain would have to do with the EU if it left.
In his shoebox-size Strasbourg office, which he uses four days a month, I ask Mr Dalton about the perception that 'Brussels' imposes laws on the UK.
"Nothing goes through in Brussels without the British government having a say over it." he tells me.
"The political culture here is for everyone to negotiate and maybe the bits that we really can't agree with, the real red lines, they will give to us but we will maybe have to accept the basic premise of what was being proposed in the first place but the key red lines, we have managed to get out," he explains.
"I think what the press want to see back home is when the European Commission proposes something outrageous. Most of the time when they propose something outrageous, that's never the end result."
Chief usher Pascal Feuilloy has worked here for 20 years and still shows unbounded enthusiasm. "The parliament is my power!" he says.
Our chat is interrupted by a rare moment of drama: "Monsieur, Monsieur" he shouts over my shoulder. Someone has broken protocol, walking into a restricted zone. It's Mr Feuilloy's job to collar them.
Dealing with politicians from 28 countries is a challenge: "Nobody is the same. I know how I have to speak with German MEP, but it's not the same with an Italian MEP. I will be more friendly with the Italian. The German doesn't accept that."
"Who's the most difficult?" I ask him. "The French!" says the Frenchman, roaring with laughter.
That brings me back to the 'why Strasbourg' question. Strasbourg is a city symbolic with post-war reconciliation out of which the EU rose. It is the French who insist the parliament moves here once a month.
Every MEP I speak to admits the 'Strasbourg shift' is mad. They find it a hassle and bad for their image but say there's nothing they can do. Bound by an EU treaty, the move could only be scrapped if France agreed.
In the café the chat is referendum-related. "The British want 'a la carte' rather than the set menu" says one member of staff, referring to what some see as the UK's pick and choose attitude.
I suggest that some in the UK believe it's Brussels which constantly imposes its laws on Britain. They laugh and all said that they think it's often the UK who insists laws are tailored for them.
Doru Frantescu from Vote Watch EU studies the votes.
"On 97% of legislation which has gone through the institutions in the last 12 years, the UK has said 'yes', so it has supported this legislation. It was only on 3% that the UK had reservations and did not support the piece of legislation." Mr Frantescu says.
He explained that the UK has positioned itself well to exert influence in areas that are in its national interest. That may mean losing a few less important battles, he says.
"In areas such as internal market, where the British really wanted to take part in the decision making, they were able to do so through diplomatic skills, through various trade-offs that they have made.
"They have found the room and the opportunity and took advantage of it to be able to engage and effectively influence this very important area."
But as with everything in the referendum debate, it's easy to use the same facts to present different arguments.