Institutional Affairs

New rules to make it harder for MEPs to form political groups

09.07.08 @ 17:26

  1. By Honor Mahony
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BRUSSELS - The European Parliament on Wednesday (9 July) voted in favour of raising the number of deputies required to form a political group in the chamber, but critics say the move is a blow to democracy as it will reduce political diversity in the EU assembly.

  • Deputies in the European Parliament will now have to meet a tougher threshold before being able to form a political grouping. (Photo: European Parliament)

Largely supported by the two biggest groups in the parliament - the centre-right European People's Party and the Socialists - the new rules (approved by 481 votes in favour to 203 votes against) mean that 25 MEPs from a minimum of seven member states will be needed to form a political group.

At the moment, the threshold is 20 MEPs from a minimum of six member states.

The rules will be put into place in the next legislative sitting, which will occur after the June 2009 European elections.

Defending his text, Socialist MEP Richard Corbett pointed out that the parliament has "one of the lowest thresholds that exist for allowing the constitution of a political group".

"Just 2.5 percent of our membership can create a political group," he noted, pointing to the extra funds needed when a deputy is a member of a group rather than an independent.

Being part of a political group guarantees members a certain length of speaking time in plenary, but also a monthly staff allowance of up to €17,000.

However, the new rules, which were narrowly voted down in the constitutional affairs committee last month ahead of being approved by the larger plenary of the parliament today, have attracted strong criticism from smaller groups.

The third biggest political group in the parliament, the Liberals, opposed the move, calling it "detrimental" to parliamentary democracy and efficiency.

If implemented now, it would directly affect both the eurosceptic Independence/Democracy Group (which has 22 MEPs) and the rightist Union for Europe of the Nations (UEN) group, which fails to meet the member state threshold.

UK Liberal MEP Andrew Duff said that only "limited" lessons could be learnt from national parliaments from where the report draws most of its comparative statistics.

He argued that the EU assembly should be a place where "post-national democratic politics takes shape" and that at this "delicate phase" of European integration "all sorts of minority opinion" should be able to form a group.

Supporters of the report, however, argue that the new rules will make it harder for the far-right to form a political group.

Last year, a disparate gathering of far right MEPs, including anti-immigrant, hard-line nationalist as well as Holocaust-denying deputies, managed to haul themselves together into a group.

It collapsed, however, a few months later after its members started insulting each other, but many deputies found it an affront that the group was able to form at all.

No more silly, irrelevant or offensive questions

Deputies also voted to change the assembly's rule in another way.

On Tuesday, MEPs agreed that to modify the rules so that deputies can no longer put irrelevant or personal questions to the European Commission.

Long-winded questions as well as those containing offensive language will also no longer make it beyond the parliament's walls.

This year, deputies have put round 2000 questions to the commission, although the vast majority are said not to be considered time-wasting queries.

Some MEPs have complained that filter system – the last word rests with the European Parliament's president – is undemocratic. Its supporters say it cuts down on wasted time and resources.

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