European Parliament shakeup

In June, MEPs voted to give consent to the European Council’s draft decision to redistribute the UK’s seats in the European Parliament after Brexit, in time for the upcoming elections in May 2019.

Under Article 14(2) of the Treaty on European Union, the European Parliament consists of a maximum 750 seats (plus the President). A minimum threshold of six MEPs may be elected in each state, as is the case in Estonia, Cyprus, Luxembourg and Malta, with a maximum of 96 allocated per country, as is the case in Germany.

The proposed redistribution of seats, which was approved by the full Parliament in Strasbourg, places 46 of the UK’s 73 seats into a ‘reserve’. A portion, or indeed the 46 seats in their entirety, will then be allocated to states which may receive entry into the EU in the future. The remaining 27 seats will be distributed between  14 EU countries which are “slightly under-represented”.

Spain and France will gain the most seats (five), followed by Italy and the Netherlands with three seats each, and then Ireland with an additional two. Meanwhile, Denmark, Estonia, Croatia, Austria, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Finland and Sweden will each gain one seat.

The redistribution ensures that no EU member state will lose a seat, while reducing the overall size of the Parliament. The European Council’s draft decision was approved by 566 votes in favour, 94 votes against and 31 abstentions. The decision was then approved by EU leaders at the Brussels summit on 28/29 June and, if ratified, will come into effect the day after it is published in the EU Official Journal.

Apportionment of seats in the European Parliament does not follow any mathematical formula and is not directly proportionate to a country’s population. Instead, a principle of ‘digressive proportionality’ is applied. This means that countries which are smaller in terms of population have fewer MEPs than those with a large population. Simultaneously, MEPs from smaller countries each represent a smaller ratio of population than MEPs from larger countries. Pro rata, this results in a relatively strong presence for smaller countries and means that the allocation of Parliament seats reflects demographic development.

The two co-rapporteurs, or MEPs charged with steering the proposals through the EU Parliament, were Danuta Hüber, a Polish MEP in the European People’s Party group, and Pedro Silva Pereira, a Portuguese MEP in the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats group.

On the Parliament’s endorsement of the proposals, Hüber stated: “The composition of the European Parliament is the ultimate expression of the will of European citizens. This is why it is important that the representation of citizens is fair, objective, and in line with EU law. After long and tough negotiations, I am glad that the European Parliament has granted its final consent to our proposal. Engaging citizens in the democratic process is of utmost importance, and I believe that the new composition of our House will motivate our citizens to become more active participants in our democratic process.

Likewise, Pereira concluded: “The final approval of the new composition of the European Parliament is a happy end to a very challenging process. We have reasons to be satisfied with the final outcome: a fairer allocation of seats, finally complying with the Lisbon Treaty and the principle of degressive proportionality; no loss of seats for any member state and a reduction in the size of the Parliament that leaves a number of seats available to accommodate potential future enlargements. The new European Parliament will ensure a fairer reflection of the citizens it represents.”

Sinn Féin MEPs Liadh Ní Riada and Lynn Boylan, as well as the European Parliament’s representative in the Brexit negotiations, Guy Verhofstadt, have suggested that Ireland’s additional two seats be used utilised to represent Irish (and therefore European) citizens in Northern Ireland after Brexit.

Fine Gael MEP Seán Kelly has voiced his support for such an initiative, suggesting: “It is worth exploring. But whether there would agreement on it and if it would work in practice is a different matter. In principle, I don’t see anything wrong with it.”

However, DUP MEP Diane Dodds reacted scathingly, arguing: “These two extra seats would be allocated to the Republic of Ireland as a member state of the EU. They therefore ought to be allocated under the system and jurisdiction of the Member State to represent the people within that state.

“Significantly, any attempt by an Irish Government to allow for the election of representatives to speak on behalf of Northern Ireland would renege upon commitments given as part of the Northern Ireland peace process.”

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