Join us on a journey through the more bizarre-o aspects of the European Parliament.
While the European Parliament is a serious chamber with important powers - it is also home to a number of oddities which add to its unique character.
A brief question to ease you in:
Which Parliaments in the world have no control over where they sit, and could not change it if they wanted to?
A. European Parliament
C. North Korea
D. All of the above
Answer: D - what illustrious company for the European Parliament to be in.
The European Parliament sits in both Brussels and Strasbourg, usually referred to as the "travelling circus" (see here, here and here) is a huge waste of money and CO2 emissions (203 million euros and 18,8885 tonnes or carbon a year at last count). But it must be pointed out that it is not the fault of the EP that its members are forced to decamp to Strasbourg 12 weeks a year.
The Parliament's odd two-seat arrangement is fixed by a protocol in the Treaty of Amsterdam, which means that unanimity from the Council would be required to change it. Brussels is generally agreed to be the seat most likely to be kept in the event of the travelling circus being scrapped. This scenario is therefore unlikely, since France is so attached to the Strasbourg seat.
New research from the extremely useful Votewatch.eu website also shows us that in the topsy-turvy world of the European Parliament, salary is not commensurate with attendance at work. All MEPs are currently paid the same as MPs in their national Parliaments (although this is due to change in June), which means that Italian MEPs come out top in the pay stakes. They 'earn' 134,291 euros (£120,000) a year, compared to Bulgarian MEPs, who earn 9,200 euros a year.
However, Italian MEPs have the worst attendance record of any of the 27 national delegations, managing to show up to only 72% of sittings over the past five years. While attendance may not be everything, (it is good if MEPs achieve something useful once they turn up) Italian MEPs are offering their constituents a serious lack of value for money.
One other glorious oddity is that EP political groupings don't really reflect the particulars of national groupings which belong to them. The EP contains no fewer than 204 different political parties and the larger groupings often contain a motley band representing extremely different interests.
For example, the largest group in the EP, the centre-right EPP group, contains the pro-free trade, anti-CAP subsidies Swedish Moderates, and the French UMP party of President Sarkozy, which has demonstrated itself to be highly protectionist. The Conservatives' decision to leave the EPP grouping has been well-publicised , but the Conservatives have found themselves voting against the group on one third of occasions, demonstrating that EP groupings are vast and contain parties of vastly different interests.