Countries to share the pain on MEP reduction
By Benjamin Fox
EU countries are set to share the pain of political job-losses, with 13 countries to lose MEPs at next year's European elections.
Deputies on the European Parliament's constitutional affairs committee on Tuesday (19 February) voted by 21 votes to 0 with a single abstention to a proposal drafted by Italian centre-left MEP Roberto Gualtieri and Rafal Trzaskowski, a Polish Christian democrat.
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The Parliament's numbers are set to swell to 766 for the final months of the current legislative term when Croatia, which stands to get 12 MEPs, finally concludes its accession to the EU.
Under the Lisbon treaty, the number of MEPs is capped at 750 plus the President, with a maximum threshold of 96 seats and a minimum of 6. However, as a result of the delay in ratifying the Lisbon treaty, Germany elected 99 MEPs in 2009.
According to the deal backed by MEPs, Germany would lose three of its seats, with twelve countries each losing one each. The matter will now go before EU leaders, who must agree unanimously, before returning for a vote of consent by MEPs.
Speaking with reporters after the vote, Trzaskowski said that he and Gualtieri had "decided that no member state would lose more than one seat." Germany's reduction is automatic with its three extra seats a temporary derogation from current rules.
The report's co-authors admitted that political considerations had seen them shy away from overhauling the system, commenting that avoiding a "traumatic reallocation" of seats was the approach most likely to secure support from MEPs and governments. Gualtieri expressed "satisfaction" following the vote, adding that MEPs from countries set to lose seats had supported it.
Despite this, committee members voted with a narrow 10-9 majority that Sweden, rather than Austria, would lose one seat. Trzaskowski admitted that the EPP group was divided on the allocation of seats to Austria, Hungary and Sweden, all of whom have similar populations between 8.4m and 9.9m, and indicated that a fierce debate and amendments to the re-allocation would ensue when the report goes before plenary.
The seats are calculated on the basis of 'degressive proportionality' meaning that MEPs from larger countries represent more constituents. Under the proposal, each German MEP would represent 852, 539 people compared to a mere 69,352 for Malta, the bloc's smallest country. However, MEPs rejected a strict application of the proportionality rule, which would otherwise have seen France gain four seats, and Britain and Spain three apiece.
Critics of the system, which include the powerful German Constitutional Court, say that the system creates a democratic deficit by over representing the bloc's smallest countries.
Meanwhile, the committee agreed to present a report in 2015 in a bid to overhaul the allocation of MEP seats and the voting weights in the Council of Ministers. Gualtieri and Trzaskowski said that a new regime was needed to take account of future enlargements and demographic changes within member states.
The parliament also wants to leave the possibility of electing a number of deputies from a transnational list in the future.