Monday

18th Mar 2019

Opinion

New composition of the European Parliament should be a wake-up call

The European Parliament's constitutional committee has begun negotiations on a new composition of its seats.

The rejected constitution – now being re-pasted into the Reform Treaty - includes radical change in the distribution of votes in the Council but only small adjustments of the composition of seats in the Parliament. Under its terms no country will have less than 6 seats. No country will have more than 96.

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In the first discussion in the constitutional committee on Monday (3 September) there was a consensus on establishing clear mathematical rules for the distribution of seats to avoid trading and injustices. We have a lot of them today.

The Netherlands with 16 million citizens has 27 seats. Belgium 24 for 10 million citizens and Sweden only 19 with 9 million citizens.

The distribution must be adjusted according to simple methods of calculation so that no country can have more or less than they are entitled to from the size of their population.

The existing concept for distribution is called "digressive proportionality".

But just how digressive is the essence of the battle.

The European Parliament has appointed two representatives from big countries to be in charge of the report.

One is the former minister of Europe for France, Alain Lamassoure, representing the biggest group in the European Parliament, the Christian-Democrats. The socialist group has appointed Adrian Severin from Romania.

The final result will be adopted by vote in Brussels on 11 October and be inserted into the Reform Treaty to be adopted in Lisbon in October.

Small countries have to wake up

Small- and medium-sized countries have to wake up now, otherwise they risk less representation in both the Council and the Parliament in the future.

With the next treaty small member states will lose heavily in the Council. From 2014 they may also lose in the parliament if the new ways of distribution are carried through.

Mr Lamassoure and Mr Severin have circulated a draft table with only small and justified amendments for the coming treaty change. They know a radical shake up now will hinder ratification.

But the European Parliament has previously worked with a proposal which would only give my country (Denmark) 10 instead of the 16 representatives we had before the enlargement with the former communist countries and the 14 seats today.

In the debate there was a proposal to give all member states 6 seats and then distribute the rest proportionally. This would be a good approach if the EU were a federal state and all states were equal in the Council. But they are not.

Under the new treaty, my country will have halve its influence in the Council. Germany will double its voting strength.

The EU is not a state where all citizens have the same say. The EU ought to be an international cooperation between sovereign states sharing competencies only where they cannot decide efficiently on their own.

In the Council member states also vote according to size. Therefore it simply does not make sense to have a second chamber where voting is also according to size.

It should be chosen which chamber votes according to member states size and which has equal representation of the participating states.

Germany dominating

In the US, all states are equal in the senate with two seats each and every citizen has the same influence in the House of Representatives. In the German Bundesrat, the small states have three votes and the biggest states six. Why should we accept a system that would never be allowed in Germany?

It is Germany who forced the "double majority" vote into the constitution and again Germany insisting it remained.

Germany should have rethink and propose a distribution with fewer seats for Germany and the other big member states - or change the voting system in the Council.

Today Germany has the dominating position in the major groups in the European Parliament. They have controlled the EPP group for many years and the President for the European Parliament, Hans-Gert Poettering, is German.

The German national party the SPD is leading the socialist group in the European Parliament. The German liberals have the vice-chair in the liberal group and Germans even have dominating positions in the Green group with a German-French President and in the GUE group with a vice-chair of the group.

Such dominating roles are not necessary. It destroys the possibility for real pluralism in the representation of small countries. A lot of political parties from the smaller member states may soon lose their representation in the European Parliament.

Much less representative European Parliament

This would be a much less representative European Parliament and decisions made that affect those citizens not represented would not feel legitimate. This is both the core problem and core task.

We do not have one single European party where citizens feel well represented. The European parties are artificial with no membership and participation of individual members.

In fact, is only the eurosceptic EUDemocrats that allow direct membership!

I urge my good colleagues to look primarily at establishing a key for distribution which allows pluralist representation from all member states. Start with the minimum at a higher figure than 6 seats and make the system very digressive.

To obtain that, Germany should be urged to give up some representation. It can afford it. And it would force others to follow.

A decision on the borders of Europe

This is also a question of future enlargements. We have a maximum of 750 seats to distribute. Who can imagine that there will be further enlargements if member states have to heavily reduce their own role in the European Parliament and the Council by accepting new countries into the EU?

Turkey, Belarus or Ukraine are unlikely to ever get in under this scenario.

We need a better balance in the European Parliament between small and big countries and a clear rule for automatic redistribution after each further enlargement.

In the original assembly, small states like Denmark had 10 votes and the biggest countries 36. Big states had 10 votes in the Council against 3 for smaller states like Denmark. Before, Germany had 3 times the Danish voting strength in the Council. Now they will have 15 times more voting power.

Before, Germany had 3.5 times the Danish representation in the Parliament. Now it may be 7 times. It is too much.

I am a good friend of neighbouring Germany and I have no problem with the many German leaders in the European Parliament. But I would prefer to vote for them because of their qualifications and not because of their excessive voting power and representation.

The author is a member of the European Parliament for the Independence/Democracy group

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