Brexit: EP size uncertain

Earlier this week Theresa May lost her Withdraw Agreement vote. The next day the House of Commons kept her in office. All this is the debate about the future of the United Kingdom relationship with the EU. As a side effect, Brexit makes the size of the next European Parliament unknown.

As the UK does not know what it wants, the EU is left in limbo.

One of the options on the table – and a very likely one – is that the European Council postpones the Brexit date from 29 March until… until when? All depends how much time the British will ask for to sort of what they want. But if they need time beyond 26 May, there is a problem.

The problem is this: if the UK is an EU member on 26 May, it should hold elections of its MEPs. This would mean there would be 751 MEPs throughout the European Union elected and 73 of them – elected in the UK. But the EU internal rules anticipated Brexit already: UK skipped its Council Presidency back in 2017; and in 2019 there are supposed to be 705 MEPs elected from 27 countries. 13 countries are electing as many MEPs in 2019 as they had in 2014 (Belgium, Bulgaria, Czechia, Germany, Greece, Cyprus, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Hungary, Malta, Portugal and Slovenia) – but 14 countries are affected.

Spain and France are supposed to elect five more MEPs than before. Italy and the Netherlands gain three extra mandates, and Ireland is up 2 seats. The remaining lot – including Poland – is expected to have an additional MEP, or… will they?

If Brexit is delayed from 29 March until after 26 May, there will be 751 MEPs elected this May, and 73 of them will be British. All according to old rules. And then, when Britain eventually leaves, the European Parliament could have 678 MEPs until the end of the term.

Until further developments.

There could be some special arrangements. For example, imagine these steps: First, the election of 751 MEPs. Second, Britain leaving some time later. Third, a special “complementation” for the states that were supposed to elect more MEPs, meaning that the 27 mandates could be reallocated to the Spanish, French, Irish and others during the EP term. There would be no special elections – just the 74th, 75th, 76th, 77th and 78th candidate from France would be awarded their seat in Strasbourg alongside everybody else.

Et alors?

In September 2017, when the European Parliament started to look at the issue of its future size, Danuta Hübner, a chairwoman of AFCO (PL, EPP) was concerned with the situation: “Brexit limits legal and political certainty”. However, the deal seemed done to “provide certainty to Member States and to organise the elections”.

However, there were the conditionality to the process. Ms Hübner warned: “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”.

The situation is not crystal clear about what happens exactly until we know for certain Brexit takes place and by a specific date, as 29 March seems more and more challenged. This means the European elections – the campaign for which is already under way – is done in the shadow of Brexit and without a “legal and political certainty”.

What we see is a kind of European muddling-through.

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