Besides reducing its size, a proposed re-distribution of seats, approved by the committee on Tuesday, would place 46 of the 73 UK seats to be freed up by Brexit in reserve.
The 46 seats, said the committee, could then be reallocated to any new countries joining the EU and/or pan-European electoral lists. The other 27 former UK seats would be distributed among the 14 EU countries that are currently said to be slightly under-represented.
According to the EU treaty, the number of MEPs cannot exceed 750, plus the Parliament President. The treaty also provides for representation to be “degressively proportional”, with a minimum threshold of six members per member state, and that no member state is to be allocated more than 96 seats.
The committee agreed that the number of MEPs elected from an EU-wide electoral constituency in the future should match the number of EU countries, as soon as the completion of the ongoing
EU electoral law reform allows it. Sixteen seats would be put in reserve in case of a future enlargement.
Introducing such a transnational constituency would strengthen the “sense of EU citizenship and the European character” of elections to Parliament, say MEPs on the committee.
However, they caution that completing the changes would require a unanimous decision by ministers in Council and ratification by all member states.
The committee said seats should be re-distributed among the 14 EU countries that are slightly under-represented “to even out current inequalities in their representation.”
MEPs stressed that this allocation would apply only if the UK actually leaves the EU, otherwise the current arrangements would stay.
The proposal was approved by 21 votes to four against.
Even though Brexit will take Northern Ireland out of the EU, MEPs stress that Northern Irish citizens, under the Good Friday agreement, also have an “inherent right” to Irish and therefore EU citizenship.
After the vote, Parliament’s co-rapporteur on the issue, Polish EPP group member Danuta Hübner, said, “One of the main challenges of this report was on how to deal with the legacy of Brexit. We felt the need to respond to the fact that a big member state is leaving, so we understood the importance of a smaller Parliament, which is able to continue working for the good of the EU’s citizens.
We hope that the new composition of the Parliament will reinvigorate citizen’s participation in the European democratic process”.
Her co-rapporteur, Portuguese S&D group deputy Pedro Silva Pereira, said, “This is a very important day for the European democracy. This proposal is a good one: it assures a fair representation of citizens, it proposes a reasonable and viable political solution.”
If the legislative initiative is approved by the full plenary, it will be put to EU heads of state or governments for a unanimous decision, and then returned to Parliament for a final vote.
The plenary vote is scheduled for the February session in Strasbourg.