Radical proposals to cut the number of European parliamentary seats after Brexit, when the UK must relinquish its 73 MEP seats, has met with a mixed response.
Twenty-two of the British seats, it is argued, could be re-distributed among the remaining 27 EU countries while 51 seats would be kept for possible EU enlargement or envisaged pan-European lists.
In his state-of-the-union address this week, commission president Jean-Claude Juncker gave his backing to the EU expanding over time to include Western Balkan states and possibly others. He also voiced support for transnational lists in Euro elections.
On Monday in Strasbourg, members of the European Parliament’s constitutional affairs committee (AFCO) debated shrinking the Parliament after the UK has left the EU to make room for new member states and pan-European electoral lists.
Some members gave their support to the idea of cutting 51 of the 73 UK seats from the Parliament after Brexit.
The remaining “minimal fraction” of 22 British seats could be re-distributed among the remaining 27 EU countries, to better take into account the principle of “degressive proportionality,” the committee heard.
The proposal, which have been drafted by Danuta Hübner, a Polish centre-right EPP member, and Portuguese Socialist member Pedro Silva Pereira, ensures that the new distribution of seats will not mean a loss of seats for any of the remaining 27 EU countries.
The text of their report, seen by this website, states that the suggested distribution method would also only apply once there is legal certainty and the UK’s withdrawal from the EU becomes legally effective.
According to the text, until Brexit has taken place, “the most viable solution providing legal certainty to member states would be to maintain the same distribution of seats in Parliament as the one applied for the 2014-2019 parliamentary term”.
While there are clear references to a pan-European constituency in the proposal, MEPs said that a successful reform of the current European electoral law will be mandatory to make transnational voting lists in the EU a reality.
According to the Treaty on European Union, the number of MEPs cannot exceed 750, plus the assembly’s president. It provides for representation to be “degressively proportional”, with a minimum threshold of six MEPs per member state, and that no member state is to be allocated more than 96 seats.
Hübner said: “Brexit limits legal and political certainty. In spite of this situation, a European decision should be finalised by the summer of 2018 to provide certainty to member states and to organise the elections.
"Until legal certainty is possible, we can’t have a redistribution of seats and we propose the status quo. Once Brexit has happened, we propose to redistribute some seats among member states to meet criteria like the “degressive proportionality” to comply with the Lisbon Treaty” Danuta Hübner MEP
“So, until legal certainty is possible, we can’t have a redistribution of seats and we propose the status quo. Once Brexit has happened, we propose to redistribute some seats among member states to meet criteria like the “degressive proportionality” to comply with the Lisbon Treaty.”
On the concept of joint constituencies, she added “there is no legal base for now, but co-rapporteurs agreed to repeat the plenary’s recommendation in this report”.
Further comment came from Silva Pereira who said: “We should bear in mind that the current distribution of seats is unfair. It only partially respects the principle of “degressive proportionality” of the Lisbon Treaty. We know the issue is sensitive.
“It requires a unanimity in the European Council and for many member states, there is a balance to ensure between their representation in Parliament and the voting system in the Council.
“This new distribution is reasonable, reduces the size of the Parliament and is politically viable”.
Some MEPs told this website they broadly backed the idea of cutting the number of seats.
UK Socialist MEP Richard Corbett said, “It's sensible to reduce the size of the European Parliament, in the event of Brexit, to 700, which was historically the figure that parliament itself considered to be the maximum reasonable size.”
On the idea of EU-wide transnational lists, he is less sure, saying, “I doubt that that would receive the necessary consensus in Council.”
"The current distribution of seats is unfair. It only partially respects the principle of “degressive proportionality” of the Lisbon Treaty. We know the issue is sensitive" Pedro Silva Pereira MEP
However, German ECR deputy Hans-Olaf Henkel, said he totally opposes the Hübner/Silva Pereira plan, saying, “Keeping 751 MEPS after Brexit is completely illogical. When the UK leaves the logical approach is to not re-allocate any of the 73 British seats in the European Parliament.”
Henkel, who is ECR deputy leader, said he is opposed to the French President Macron’s renewed commitment to maintain all of the 751 seats in the European Parliament even after Brexit and redistribute them via a supranational list.
He said the proposal is an “aloof elite project,” adding, "So far the inclusion of new countries in the EU has always been the reason for enlarging the parliament, the reduction of the EU must lead then to a reduction of MEPs. No one could reasonably explain to European citizens that a smaller EU does not mean a smaller European Parliament when the UK leaves the EU.”
“If a pan-European list of MEPs was introduced, it would not only be a huge artificial swelling of the Parliament, it would also be a devastating signal of how detached the European elites have become. European citizens already feel that their MEPs are too distant from their constituencies and creating European wide lists would exasperate the problem, not solve it.”
Henkel warned: "If the split within Europe deepens, more and more countries will leave the EU and finally the European Parliament will end up with 751 German MEPs."
Elsewhere, Andrew Duff, a former Liberal MEP and now Visiting Fellow at the European Policy Centre, is also critical of the plans, saying: “The draft report is an example of weak prevarication. The Parliaments’ leaders must take over the dossier from AFCO if Parliament is not to miss a big constitutional moment.”
“If a pan-European list of MEPs was introduced, it would not only be a huge artificial swelling of the Parliament, it would also be a devastating signal of how detached the European elites have become" Hans-Olaf Henkel MEP
Duff, a constitutional expert, added: “Transnational lists and a mathematical formula for seat apportionment can be triggered now, in good time for the 2019 elections.”
A Socialist group spokesman said, “In the past, the S&D group was in favour of transnational lists. The group has not yet discussed this new draft report. We will clarify our position in the coming months.”
Guy Verhofstadt, the Alde leader, welcomed the report as “a good proposal” while a spokesman for the UK Tory delegation said: “This is a matter for the EU27 to decide how to reallocate our seats once we've left.”
German EPP deputy Elmar Brok told this website: "I agree that 22 seats should be used for a fairer distribution of seats. As many seats as possible should be kept free for future mandates."