‘All EU Need To Know’: The change in composition of the European Parliament explained

What is the current composition of the European Parliament?

There are currently 751 Members of the European Parliament (MEPs). The Treaty on European Union (TEU) outlines that no Member State can have fewer than six MEP seats or more than 96. There is also a policy of ‘degressive proportionality’, whereby larger EU countries agree to accept fewer seats than they would receive if they were strictly allocated according to population size.

Why would the composition of the European Parliament change?

Currently, 73 of the 751 seats in the European Parliament are held by MEPs from the United Kingdom (UK).

On Friday, 23 February 2018, at an informal European Council meeting, EU leaders discussed the composition of the European Parliament for the 2019-2024 term and what will happen to those seats should the UK leave the EU. Having triggered Article 50 TEU, the UK is due to leave the EU on 29 March 2019. Following the informal meeting, President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, stated “Leaders broadly supported the idea that fewer Member States should mean fewer seats, which means reducing the number of MEPs from 751 to 705.”

What will happen to the UK’s seats should they leave the EU?

On 23 January 2018, the European Parliament Committee for Constitutional Affairs (AFCO) proposed that should the UK leave the EU, the total number of MEPs should be reduced from 751 to 705.

The proposal also recommended that 27 of the 73 seats left vacant by the UK, including the three seats held by MEPs from Northern Ireland, would be redistributed to 14 currently under-represented Member States: France (+ 5 seats); Spain (+ 5 seats); Italy (+ 3 seats); the Netherlands (+ 3 seats); Poland (+ 1 seat); Romania (+ 1 seat); Sweden (+ 1 seat); Austria (+ 1 seat); Denmark (+ 1 seat); Slovakia (+ 1 seat); Finland (+ 1 seat); Croatia (+ 1 seat); and Estonia (+ 1 seat).

Under the proposal, Ireland would also receive two additional seats, which would increase the number of Irish MEPs from 11 to 13.

AFCO also proposed that the 46 remaining seats would be held in reserve for new countries joining the EU or for a potential transnational list. While the overall proposal was approved by the European Parliament on 7 February 2018, MEPs rejected the part of the proposal for a transnational list by 368 votes to 274, with 34 abstentions.

What is a transnational list?

A transnational list would see the creation of a pan-European constituency whereby EU citizens could give their vote to any MEP candidate running for those transnational seats, regardless of nationality. If a transnational list were to be created, EU citizens would likely have two voting ballots: one for MEP candidates from their own national constituency and a second dedicated to a list of MEP candidates of different nationalities from an EU-wide constituency. An Irish citizen could, for example, vote for a Spanish MEP from the transnational list, as well as voting for their local MEPs.

Proponents of a transnational list believe it would enhance European unity and democracy, and encourage citizens to become more informed during European Parliament elections. French President, Emmanuel Macron, has advocated for the creation of a transnational list; and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has stated his support for the idea, saying “Let’s get people in cafes in Naples and restaurants in Galway talking about the same election choices”.

Will a transnational list be created for the next European Parliament elections?

Probably not. As outlined above, the proposal for a transnational list was rejected by a small majority of MEPs (54 per cent). Therefore, it is unlikely that a transnational list will be established before the next European Parliament elections, which are proposed to take place on 23-26 May 2019.

Some Member States, such as the Visegrad Group of the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia have openly opposed the idea of a transnational list.

Has the change in composition of the European Parliament post-Brexit been confirmed?

During a plenary session on 13 June, the European Parliament voted on a draft European Council decision on the change in composition of the European Parliament. The draft European Council decision was endorsed by the European Parliament by 566 votes to 94, with 31 abstentions. At a European Council Summit on 28 June, EU leaders formally adopted a decision on the change in composition of the European Parliament to reduce its size from 751 to 705 MEPs. 27 UK seats will be redistributed as outlined in the AFCO proposal, and 46 UK seats will be held in reserve for potential future enlargement. This rearrangement will only apply once the UK has left the EU – until then, the current European Parliament arrangements remain unchanged. The decision by the European Council on 28 June will allow Member States to enact the necessary domestic measures ahead of the next European Parliament elections in May 2019.

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