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Europe's Costly Double Parliament: A Movable Beast

Strasbourg may not be a transport hub, but â¿¿ a stylish city with one of Europe's best Gothic cathedrals â¿¿ it more than makes up for that in historic significance, Trautmann argues.

Often fiercely fought over by Germany and France in centuries of fighting, Strasbourg has both Gallic and Teutonic influences, from its street signs to its gastronomic specialties. Tucked on the French side of the Rhine river, it became an emblem of the warm ties France and Germany had nurtured since World War II. For France, the Strasbourg parliament also evolved into a symbol of its status as a European heavyweight, and a boon for the local economy.

In the 21st century, and the worst financial crisis since the start of the EU over half a century ago, many Europeans say changes have to be made.

"The outside world looks on with amazement that all of these years after the Second World War we are still perpetuating this anachronistic homage to the Franco-German reconciliation," said British MEP Edward McMillan-Scott.

In France, it's a different story.

On Tuesday, French President Francois Hollande, after conveniently flying in from Paris, celebrated Strasbourg's role.

"I defend Strasbourg, the capital of Europe, because it is history that teaches us the role Strasbourg has to play," Hollande told EU legislators. "Strasbourg is both the history and the future of Europe."

The parliamentary sessions have become a tremendous boost for the city. When two sessions had to be canceled in 2008 because the roof of the plenary had partly collapsed, the cost to the city of 275,000 people was ⿬7.5 million ($10.2 million).

France also said that all EU nations, including Britain, formally agreed on the dual parliament in 1992. And since any change requires unanimity, France remains in full control of Strasbourg's destiny.

Parliamentarians may hope the EU summit will raise the issue on Thursday in the frantic search for budget cuts, although Hollande has dashed any expectation of change.

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