Sunday

23rd Sep 2018

Brexit opens Pandora's Box on number of MEPs per country

  • There are currently 751 MEPs. 73 of them are from the UK, which is due to leave the EU next year (Photo: European Parliament)

A select group of members of the European Parliament will meet this week in Strasbourg to discuss what to do after Brexit with the 73 seats currently occupied by British members.

The sensitive question is heavily influenced by national interests and is used by some to advocate an introduction of pan-European lists.

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The UK is set to leave the EU on 29 March 2019, less than two months before the citizens of the remaining 27 countries get to vote on the new composition of the European Parliament, whose members are elected every five years.

The parliament's constitutional affairs committee has been working for several months on a legal text that would determine what will happen to the 73 seats.

For Belgian centre-right MEP Anneleen Van Bossuyt the answer should be very simple.

"We should just have 73 seats less. No debate," she told EUobserver in an interview on Monday (15 January).

That would mean the number of MEPs, including the president, would shrink from 751 to 678.

Van Bossuyt said that this would be common sense and that she cannot explain citizens why the outcome should be any different.

She is a member of the mildly eurosceptic European Conservatives and Reformists group, which also is home to the Conservative party from the UK.

"We will also have less financial means," she said, alluding to the fact that every additional seat comes at an extra cost for taxpayers, and that the UK would no longer contribute to the EU budget.

751 minus 73 = 700?

However, that is not what the lead MEPs on the file from the political centre have in mind.

A draft text written by Polish centre-right MEP Danuta Maria Huebner and Portuguese centre-left MEP Pedro Silva Pereira was published last September.

In it, Huebner and Silva Pereira proposed to reduce the number of parliament seats from 751 to 700, including the president.

They acknowledged that the apportionment of seats "is a politically sensitive issue".

The two said that the previous time the number and distribution of seats had changed, a political compromise was chosen that was not ideal.

"Such a political compromise meant that in some cases members of the European Parliament from member states with a smaller population represented more citizens per member than their colleagues from relatively more populous member states," they write.

Huebner and Silva Pereira explained that they wanted to use some of the UK seats to fix the uneven distribution.

They proposed that France would get four additional MEPs, Italy three, Spain four, the Netherlands two, and Sweden, Austria, Denmark, Finland, Slovakia, Ireland, Croatia, and Estonia one each.

The number of MEPs from Germany, Poland, Romania, Belgium, Greece, Czech Republic, Portugal, Hungary, Bulgaria, Lithuania, Slovenia, Latvia, Cyprus, Luxembourg, and Malta would stay the same.

Pandora's Box

Not surprisingly, some countries were not happy about missing out.

One amendment, signed by 22 Polish MEPs, including Huebner, proposed that the number of Polish MEPs would increase from 51 to 55.

Trying to solve the conundrum is very much like opening a Pandora's Box.

"It can never be completely fair to everyone," said one parliament source. "Who doesn't want another seat?"

A committee vote was scheduled for last week, with the idea of having a plenary vote in Strasbourg this week.

However, the vote was delayed to leave more time for political groups to come up with compromise amendments to replace some of the 173 amendments tabled.

National governments involved

According to Pedro Lopez de Pablo, spokesman for the parliament's largest group, the centre-right European People's Party, MEPs in Brussels and Strasbourg are receiving instructions from their capitals.

"The member states are also influencing the way that we are negotiating here," he said Friday at a press conference.

Two parliament sources said that France, Italy and Spain wanted more seats than already proposed, and that the final number of MEPs should be 705.

The MEPs appointed by groups to coordinate the file will meet on Thursday.

EU-wide lists

Also on the agenda is an idea to use some of the unused seats for future transnational lists.

"I think it's very important for the European spirit and the European idea that a Dutchman can vote on a French candidate, or a Spaniard on a Polish candidate," Dutch MEP Gerben-Jan Gerbrandy told this website in an interview.

Gerbrandy is a member of the Liberal group, which is led by Belgian MEP Guy Verhofstadt.

"Many Dutch people tell me: 'I'd love to vote for Guy Verhofstadt.'"

Two sources in the parliament from different groups, said the idea of EU-wide lists is a "pet project" of Verhofstadt's, although it has recently also been proposed by French president Emmanuel Macron, and other groups have also voice support.

"We will support the idea of transnational lists as a way of strengthening European democracy," said Utta Tuttlies, spokeswoman for the centre-left Socialist & Democrats, the second-largest group in the parliament.

MEP Van Bossuyt is completely against it.

"If we want a European superstate, then this would fit perfectly," said the Belgian MEP.

"Citizens do not even know their own MEPs, let alone that they would suddenly vote for someone from another country to represent him or her in the European Parliament," said Van Bossuyt.

The current plan is for the constitutional affairs committee to vote on the issue next Tuesday (23 January), followed by a plenary vote in early February.

EU leaders meeting in Brussels later that month will also discuss the issue.

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