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12th Jul 2020

Italy seeks to delay MEP seats decision

  • MEP seats - a question of politics (Photo: European Parliament)

Just hours before the European Parliament is to vote on a report on how its seats should be allocated in the future, Italian prime minister Romano Prodi has suggested dealing with the political hot potato only after a new EU treaty is ratified.

"This has got nothing to do with the treaty itself, the treaty can be approved without having any impact on the number of the seats in the European Parliament", Mr Prodi said on Wednesday (10 October), after a meeting with the European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso.

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He added that "it might be a good idea to look at numbers of MEPs after ratification" of the treaty – a new set of institutional rules, which is expected to be approved by EU leaders in their informal meeting in Lisbon next week (18-19 October).

Ratification of the document across the EU is expected to be completed by early 2009.

Mr Prodi's comments underline his country's fierce opposition to a new plan on how seats for MEPs should be distributed between the 27 EU states after the next European elections in 2009.

Under the proposal, Italy has the right to 72 deputies – six less than at the moment.

Rome particularly opposes the principle under which a country's political weight is based on the number of its residents rather than on the number of its citizens, who have the actual right to elect their MEPs.

It argues that the principle favours countries with higher immigration rates such as France or the UK, with Italian EU affairs minister Emma Bonino describing the idea as "unacceptable" last week.

However, Mr Prodi ruled out that his country would veto the entire treaty deal over the issue.

MEPs divided

The proposal on the future composition of EU assembly was drafted by French conservative MEP Alain Lamassoure and Romanian socialist Adrian Severin after EU leaders in June asked parliament to table a recommendation on how to share out the total number of seats by October.

The two lawmakers have suggested following three main rules.

The total number of deputies in the legislative body should be limited to 750 compared to the current 785. The ceiling for a national delegation would be decreased from 99 to 96 seats and the minimum threshold would rise from five to six seats.

Within the three main limits, the seats would be shared on the basis of the "degressive proportionality" principle, suggesting that "the bigger the population of a member state, the higher must be the number of citizens each MEP represents" and vice versa.

Three main political groups – the conservatives, the socialists and the liberals – have already indicated they will back the changes, despite internal reservations.

But others have expressed open criticism, attacking mainly the residents-based calculation.

According to Austrian green MEP Johannes Voggenhuber the selected mathematical formula "breaches elementary principles of fairness and perpetuates historical inequalities".

"The European Parliament represents voters, not the socio-economic capacity of states. If there is no demos, then there is no parliament", Mr Voggenhuber said.

Italian MEP Luca Romagnoli from the far-right Identity, Tradition and Sovereignty group has also suggested the report to "be rejected with scorn as it ignored many facts". "Why should Malta and Estonia have the same number of MEPs [six] even though Estonia's population is three times bigger", he added.

But Mr Lamassoure has urged his colleagues to defend the European interest, not narrow national ones.

"This is only an provisional solution", he said, adding "the best would be to come up with a mathematical principal, which could be applied automatically with future enlargements, but the short deadline made it impossible".

Both he and Mr Severin warned against rejecting the report in today's vote saying this would effectively mean MEPs would leave the matter for national governments to decide.

"If we fail, the parliament will send out a message that it is not able to adopt an important reform and has to wait for the executive to decide it", Mr Severin said, adding it "could be a prelude to a bigger failure".

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