“This is untrue; I never made this outrageous statement,” said Borrell today.
The row started last week and follows a campaign led by Nordic country MEPs for an end to the parliament’s ‘travelling circus’ between Brussels and Strasbourg.
Borrell, a Spaniard, claimed that the parliament is a symbol of Franco-German reconciliation, and added that “this historic dimension cannot be perceived in the same way in ‘some Nordic country’ which did not participate in World War II.”
The backlash against Borrell started immediately. Worse, although Borrell was referring to Sweden his use of the word ‘some’ caused confusion in translation leading other Nordic countries to believe he was referring to them as well. Finnish MEPs were particularly upset by the perceived ignorance of their country’s suffering in the war.
However, Borrell said his comments have been misrepresented by MEPs who support the campaign for one parliament site, and who have published an open letter of complaint to Borrell.
“Where I simply say that various countries’ different histories can lead to differing perceptions of events, you accuse me of denying Sweden the right to express her voice on European issues. Do you really believe that saying that opinions may differ is tantamount to denying the right to express them?”, replied Borrell.
The European Parliament has often been criticised for its practice of moving from its normal base in Brussels for meetings three days a month at a separate parliament building in Strasbourg.
The practice costs €200 million a year, but can only be ended by unanimous agreement among EU members. France is thought certain to veto any attempt to shut the Strasbourg venue.
MEPs from Sweden, Finland, Denmark, the UK, Netherlands and Germany have organized a “one-seat petition” in support of their campaign for the parliament to be permanently located in one site to save money and increase efficiency.
Borrell rejected their assertion that: “The commuting question has disgraced the European Parliament for a long time,” and that ending it would help restore the parliament’s reputation.
“I do not think our reputation and credibility require any restoring,” said Borrell.
Commentators said France will also certainly veto any attempt to shut the Strasbourg venue.