Tuesday

23rd Apr 2019

MEPs in dispute over political group sizes

  • The number of MEPs needed to form a political group could be raised from 20 to 30 in 2009 (Photo: European Parliament)

MEPs on Tuesday (27 May) rejected a proposal to raise the threshold of deputies needed to create a political group in the European Parliament, with critics saying it would threaten political diversity in the EU assembly. But the proposal still has a chance of being passed in July.

UK centre-left MEP Richard Corbett had suggested that the number of MEPs needed to form a political group - and be eligible for the funds, speaking time and staff allowances that go with such a designation - be raised from 20 to 30 after the 2009 elections.

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He argued that the current rules need updating and that a change would prevent a repeat of last year's events when far-right MEPs managed to scrape a group together. It subsequently collapsed after internal bickering.

"Let's look at all financial and human resources provided to groups: is it right for us to have such a low threshold?" he said during the debate in the Constitutional Affairs Committee.

Mr Corbett says that the current threshold represents just 2.55 percent of the parliament's membership - but that in 21 of the 25 parliaments in the EU that have rules on political groups, the threshold is higher. It is highest in the Luxembourg parliament - at 8.5 percent.

If the new threshold was set at 30 deputies in a parliament of 750 MEPs - as it will be after 2009 - this would correspond to four percent.

But the proposal led to a lively debate in the committee. Liberal MEP Andrew Duff said it could force deputies into one or other of the biggest political groups - currently the centre-right and the Socialists.

"Is it right to limit pluralist debates?," asked Hanne Dahl, from the Independence / Democracy group - one of the factions likely to be threatened by the rule change.

"Every call for efficiency is a risk for democracy," she added.

The amendment was only narrowly voted down (15 to 14 MEPs in favour of leaving the threshold as is) but it is set come before the plenary as a whole in July when a similar debate is expected.

The Liberals, as third biggest group in the parliament, accused the conservative and socialist groups of using a loophole to "manoeuvre" the report on to the plenary agenda for July.

"All political voices must be heard in the European Parliament and have the right to form a group, as is the case in our national parliaments. The [conservatives] and the [socialists] want to reduce the European Parliament to a rubber stamp of the Council of Ministers," French Liberal MEP Marielle de Sarnez.

MEPs also voted on a separate report by Mr Corbett on changing the rules on MEPs tabling written questions to the commission or council (representing member states).

Under the proposed changes, written questions will have to fall within EU's competences, be concise and not contain offensive language.

The final decision on whether a question is eligible falls to the parliament's president - something that has been criticised as undemocratic by some deputies.

Opinion

Parliament rules on political groups need tidying up

MEPs in the constitutional affairs committee on Tuesday morning voted down an attempt to raise the threshold for creating a political group in the European Parliament. UK Labour MEP and author of the report Richard Corbett defends the proposal and suggests the issue will be revisted in plenary in the coming weeks.

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Reflecting the diversity of the EU, the European Parliament is pluralism personified so why are the two largest political groups insisting on cutting the number of party political groups in the assembly from July 2009, asks UK Liberal MEP Andrew Duff ahead of today's vote in the committee.

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