Parliament to get extra observer MEPs from 12 countries
The European Parliament on Wednesday (25 November) paved the way to taking on a further 18 MEPs. But they will not be allowed to vote or speak in the plenary until EU governments agree and ratify a legal basis for their full mandate.
The newcomers will be allowed to speak in committee meetings, but won't have the right to table amendments, draft reports, vote or speak in the plenary. Their limited powers are a result of the legal complications following the transition from EU's old rulebook to the Lisbon Treaty, which will come into force next Tuesday (1 December).
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When the reform treaty was drafted, EU governments decided to expand the legislature from 736 to 751 members, so as to reflect the enlarged union. Elections for the current European Parliament took place in June, however, when the Lisbon Treaty's future was still uncertain following its rejection by referendum in Ireland.
Some countries benefitting from the extra seats, such as Spain or Sweden, elected "reserve MEPs" who will take their observer status as soon as national governments take a decision on the matter. But others, notably France, did not. This complicates the matter even further, as they are now likely to send national parliamentarians as observers and hold early European elections for the extra seats once the legal basis for their full powers is in place.
British Liberal MEP Andrew Duff tried to push through an amendment that would have allowed the parliament decide on how to select the observers, not the member states. The move failed to gather the necessary majority, however.
As to the length of the observer status, the cumbersome legal procedures among member states could "take some while," an EU diplomat told this website. A special so-called intergovernmental conference comprising of all EU leaders as well as the heads of the bloc's institutions will be needed to alter the number of seats in the parliament.
The protocol will then have to be ratified by all member states, either as an annex to the Croatian accession treaty or as a document in itself.
So far, it is unclear if the Swedish EU presidency will call for this extra summit by the end of this year or if it will rather be a matter for the next rotating presidency, chaired by Spain, and the new permanent president of the EU council, Herman Van Rompuy.
Before joining the EU in 2004 and 2007, new member states from eastern Europe and the Mediterranean also had "observer" MEPs sent by national parliaments.
In 2004, the 10 countries joined in May and held regular elections in June, together will all the other older member states. In 2007, when Bulgaria and Romania joined, they held early European elections after several months in which the observers were simply "transformed" to full MEPs.