Institutional Affairs

Member states argue over MEPs in Constitution talks

29.09.03 @ 17:41

  1. By Honor Mahony
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BRUSSELS - In an ominous portent of the approaching behind-the-scenes negotiations on the draft EU constitution, Member States on Monday clashed over the issue of how many MEPs should represent the European Parliament.

  • KLAUS HÄNSCH (PES) -will definitely be one of the representatives of the European Parliament in the IGC; the EPP are still trying to agree their candidate (Photo: EU Commission)

After some hefty discussion, which took the Italian Presidency by surprise, it was eventually agreed that two MEPs should represent the European Parliament during the bargaining on the draft Treaty.

Pat Cox, the European Parliament President, also caused some controversy: Should he be invited to the attend the meetings of EU leaders or not?

Eventually, despite French opposition to any breaches of procedure, it was agreed that Mr Cox would attend the opening of the Intergovernmental Conference (IGC) on 4 October and it would be decided there what to do next.

However, it was agreed that Mr Cox's attendance at EU leaders' level "should in no way set a precedent," a source told the EUobserver.

UK blocks

Two MEPs had been foreseen from the two biggest groups in the Parliament, the European Peoples' Party and the Socialists.

However, the third biggest group in the Parliament, the liberals had also been heavily lobbying for representation.

Their cause was taken up in high places last week when Mr Cox, himself a Liberal, called Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini to ask for a third MEP.

While most countries were fairly flexible on the issue, including Italy as the current EU Presidency, the UK argued strongly against it.

Denis MacShane, the UK Europe Minister, used the do-not-open-Pandora's-box argument, however, word has it that the UK simply cannot stomach having Andrew Duff as a representative.

A UK liberal MEP, Mr Duff during the Convention's deliberations on the treaty blueprint presented an articulate and passionate defence of several issues that the UK government was against.

EPP in a quandary

The issue was also muddied by a second element - that of accession country representation. Several of them, particularly Poland, asked why the third representative should not be from one of the ten newcomers to the club.

However, all of this debate does not solve the EPP's problem - which MEP to send to the IGC. Last week, two of EPP heavyweights in the Convention, Elmar Brok and Inigo Mendez de Vigo clashed over who should be the representative.

An internal group vote last week saw a dead draw - now the group "has absolutely no idea what to do", said a group insider.

For their part, the Socialists have things tied up. German MEP Klaus Hänsch is definitely one of the representatives.