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22nd Jan 2022

Member states set for tussle with parliament over 18 MEPs

  • Adding 18 MEPs to the parliament now would temporarily raise the number of deputies to 754 - three more than foreseen under the Lisbon Treaty (Photo: European Parliament)

EU President Herman Van Rompuy has formally requested the European Parliament not to call a broad discussion on how to legally establish the 18 extra MEPs foreseen under the Lisbon Treaty in the Brussels assembly.

In a letter unveiled by EU parliament chief Jerzy Buzek on Wednesday (20 January), Mr Van Rompuy asked MEPs to let member states call an intergovernmental conference (IGC) to tweak the EU treaty, without prior discussion in a convention.

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Spain, currently heading the EU presidency, is pressing for a quick amendment to allow the new MEPs entry into the parliament for the 2009-2014 mandate. Madrid has made the issue a priority as it stands to gain the most, with four extra Spanish MEPs entitled to come to Brussels.

Of the other 11 member states concerned, eight are entitled to one more MEP each and three countries to two more deputies.

Parliament may yet dig in its heels on principle, however. The house was angered by France, which failed to make arrangements prior to last year's European elections allowing for the two extra French MEPs to take part in the vote. Instead, Paris has suggested it will handpick two deputies from its national assembly and parachute them into the EU legislature.

"I think that this is sufficient breach of the democratic legitimacy of parliament that we should precede an intergovernmental conference to discuss this matter with a convention," UK Liberal MEP Andrew Duff told this website.

A convention requires the involvement of representatives from the European Commission, European Parliament, national parliaments and member states - the last one was called in 2001 to draw up what eventually turned into the current Lisbon Treaty.

Pandora's box

Member states fear that calling a convention could lead to other issues being examined, perilously soon after they closed their last round of institutional talks, which lasted some eight years.

MEPs, on the other hand, argue that the remit of both gatherings could be made very narrow and that the convention could be limited to just two or three days.

"It would be possible to draw the brief for the convention and the IGC extremely tightly - that the parameters of the things to be discussed could be specified," said Mr Duff.

The issue will be discussed by representatives of the political groups in the parliament's constitutional affairs committee next week and is due for a wider discussion by the committee as a whole in February.

Spain is hoping that the IGC "will be called as soon as possible," said a spokesperson, and that if it falls during its presidency, running until the end of June, then "all the better."

The anomaly with the MEPs arises because the June elections took place under the Nice Treaty but the Lisbon Treaty, in place since 1 December, increases the number of deputies.

Most of the member states affected by this change took account of this in the June elections by simply electing reserve MEPs.

French gambit

France's hope that the extra two deputies can be picked from its national parliament goes against treaty rules.

Meanwhile, the overall number of MEPs is set to rise to 754 with the 18 extra names - three more than foreseen under the Lisbon Treaty - because Germany, which is to lose three deputies, will not reduce its number until the next legislature in four year's time. The two factors require temporary changes to be made to the Lisbon Treaty.

The new MEPs will mean that the Swedish pirates party, amongst others, will get an extra deputy - set to be the youngest member of the parliament, Amelia Andersdotter. The Netherlands' anti-immigration PVV party will increase its seats from four to five, the same number as the Dutch Christian Democrats.

Spain's IGC idea needs to be realised quickly if it is to make political sense.

An amendment changing the number of MEPs would need to be agreed by all 27 national parliaments - a lengthy process occasionally taken hostage by other political issues.

Any delay in ratification risks bringing the date by which the extra deputies are actually in parliament with full rights close to 2014 - the date of the next European elections, when the legal problem will cease to exist.

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