Congress, the British Parliament, the Bundestag and France's Assemblee Nationale have their capitals, but the European Parliament has a shuttle ticket.
Since its founding in 1962, the assembly of 518 members from the 12 European Community states has been a nomad.The parliament approves the European Community budget but has no legislative authority. Its work is spread among Strasbourg, Luxembourg and Brussels, which span 280 miles.
Years of political wrangling among member states have left the European Parliament with no fixed address and a split personality.
Finding a permanent home is on the agenda of the EC summit in Rome next weekend, but the leaders may dodge it.
"When they know they don't have a solution, they prefer not to bring up the question at all," said a senior EC official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Belgium and France have threatened to veto a decision in favor of the other. European Parliament members have voted for Brussels, but only the EC governments can decide, and they must be unanimous.
This is the status quo:
-The parliament holds its monthly, weeklong plenary sessions in a rented conference hall in Strasbourg, its committees meet in Brussels and the 2,400-person secretariat is in Luxembourg, halfway between.
-The only assembly hall ever built for the European Parliament, in Luxembourg in the early 1980s, remains unused.
-Construction continues on an assembly building in Brussels and a new assembly hall is being planned in Strasbourg.
Each month, cars, planes and trains carry the assembly members, journalists, lobbyists, staff, translators and interpreters to Strasbourg, along with truckloads of documents.
In 1987, a parliamentary panel found that it cost $67 million to operate in three cities, not counting travel costs and hotel expenses during the monthly Strasbourg sessions. It suggested a single site would save up to $52 million a year.
Money is at the heart of the contest. If Strasbourg loses to Brussels, its hotels will lose $3 million a year.
Many feel the issue of a home can be resolved only as part of a deal on sites for several new institutions. Those include an Eastern Europe development bank, an EC central bank and environmental agency, and a parliamentary assembly of the 34-nation Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe.
"Over the long run, there is a possibility that everyone will get a piece of the pie, but this will take years," said parliament spokesman Guido Naets.
One idea is to give the parliament and secretariat to Brussels, the CSCE assembly to Strasbourg, the EC central bank to Luxembourg and environmental agency to Italy. The development bank for Eastern Europe is to be in London.
The issue of a single home received new impetus this year when the EC states agreed to give the European Parliament powers that could influence EC policies.
Proponents of Brussels say the assembly can have a strong voice in EC affairs only in the city that already houses the EC Commission, Council of Ministers and thousands of journalists, lobbyists and diplomats.
Supporters of Strasbourg, a historical flash point of French-German wars, say this city on the Rhine embodies Franco-German reconciliation.
On Sept. 26, the French government warned of the "grave consequences" of "insidious attempts" to move the parliament to Brussels.