What will become of UK seats in Parliament post-Brexit?

Written by Indrek Tarand on 11 September 2017 in Opinion

Brexit comes with many issues to sort out, not least what to do with the 73 seats vacated by UK MEPs, writes Indrek Tarand.

Indrek Tarand | Photo credit: European Parliament audiovisual

It seems obvious that after the United Kingdom leaves the European Union, the size of the European Parliament will be reduced by 73 seats. But this does not seem to be the case if we listen to the discussions of our colleagues in the constitutional affairs committee, who would like to use the opportunity in order to improve digressive proportionality.

It has been calculated by different mathematical gurus that seven states - France, Spain, Netherlands, Hungary, Austria, Denmark and Ireland - currently suffer, if we may use that word.

The solution proposed, known as the 'power compromise', would not only increase the number of seats for these seven countries, but in addition 13 other member states will also see their number of seats increased. 


Mathematically this calculation is correct. But is it correct politically? I have serious doubts that a majority of European citizens would understand the politics which seem to pretend that despite Brexit, nothing will change institutionally in the Parliament. It kind of looks like bribing the smaller member states in order to get their governments' support in the Council. 

In the case of Estonia this bonus would entail a 1/3 increase from the current situation (six seats currently, but eight in the future).

With slightly ironic humour, one could point out that my country already has some difficulties in filling all their seats with meaningful MEPs (that remark is strictly concerning myself).

In addition to the proportionality argument, there is a never-ending story on transnational or pan-European lists. The long-time idealistic dream of European political parties to emerge as full actors in the European political arena has been endorsed by all major pro-European groups in the Parliament, yet none of us have been able to define how those lists actually would be formed and what their impact on European elections would be.

From the small countries' perspective, you could imagine some difficulties to get their candidates to the top of those lists, as there will be simply fewer voters from that country than from Poland for instance. 

But as many generations of European politicians have promised to follow such a path, perhaps it is the right moment to have this experiment practically tested during the 2019 elections. It seems to me that it would be easier to justify such a decision to the citizens than to just give 20 countries extra seats.

So either 28 seats - or perhaps even the full 73 seats - could go to European parties, and the Parliament would remain at 751 members in size. Or a simpler solution - just reducing the number of seats by 73 and continuing with 678 members.

The discussion in the constitutional affairs committee and the upcoming report by MEPs Danuta Hübner and Pedro Silva Pereira will most likely remain a theoretical exercise, and will not bring about the necessary changes in the treaties. But Brexit is a regrettably serious issue and we should not behave as though nothing has happened. 

Think for a second - we will no longer be able to use English as an official and interpreted language as long as the Maltese or Irish do not want to sacrifice their respective mother tongues. The reform of the language and translation policies needs to be discussed. And perhaps it will not be the right thing to give more seats to the mostly English speaking middle-sized countries?


About the author

Indrek Tarand (Greens/EFA, EE) is a Vice-Chair of Parliament's budgetary control committee


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