Some MEPs ready to pick the fight for pan-EU lists

Guy Verhofstadt (L), leader of the ALDE Liberal group at the European Parliament, speaks with Chairman of the EPP Group in the European Parliament Manfred Weber (R) in the European Parliament, after a press conference in Strasbourg. [EPA/PATRICK SEEGER]

In a somewhat heated debate on Monday (11 September), the European Parliament constitutional affairs committee inched forward the creation of transnational parliamentary lists, seizing the opportunity provided by Brexit.

For the past 20 years, transnational lists have been a bit of a wishful thinking plan, as EU governments remained unconvinced on its feasibility, fearing that it would create ‘different classes’ of MEPs. But now, with French president Emmanuel Macron’s intention to revitalize European democracy, the idea has taken a new turn.

With the backing of Greece, Italy and Spain, France is eager to push for a two-stage democratic reform of the bloc. The first stage aims to take advantage of the UK leaving the bloc and use about 50 vacated seats to create a pan-European list, allowing voters to choose for a national and a pan-European MEP.

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“We have an historic and unique opportunity with Brexit,” said Guy Verhofstadt, ALDE leader in the European Parliament, reminding that the proposal was already part of the reform of the EU electoral law adopted by the House in 2015.

But at the time, all EU governments were opposed, mainly because the seats had to be found from those already allocated to EU countries, Verhofstadt explained. Now it’s different, as 73 seats will be vacated by the UK.

While there are clear references to a pan-European constituency in the reform of electoral law, MEPs stress that a successful reform of the current European electoral law will have to be mandatory to make transnational voting lists in the EU a reality.

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The Socialists, Liberals and the Greens in the European Parliament are ready to pick the fight with member states, but the Polish centre-right MEP Danuta Hübner, who is drafting the report on the future composition of the parliament together with Portuguese S&D MEP Pedro Silva Pereira, seems reluctant to move forward without a legal basis.

“The fact that one of the member states will be leaving the European Union is strongly limiting the legal and political certainty of the whole process,” she said, also noting that Brexit may not actually happen in March 2019.

Waiting for Brexit

Some MEPs argue that until Brexit has actually 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”.

A way to bring more convergence would be to cut 51 of the 73 UK seats from Parliament after Brexit, bringing the institution down from 751 to 700 elected representatives.

These vacated seats would then be kept in store in case of a future EU enlargement, but could also be used for the envisaged pan-European lists of Parliament members.

The remaining “minimal fraction” of 22 British seats could be re-distributed among the remaining 27 EU countries, to better reflect the principle of “degressive proportionality” so that no member state loses seats.

That would help to strengthen the European nature of the elections while respecting equal representation.

According to the EU Treaty, the number of MEPs cannot exceed 750, plus the President Representation must be “degressively proportional”, so that no member state has fewer than six or more than 96 parliamentary seats.

Any reform, however, would require a modification of the electoral act by the European Council, by unanimity.

“The European Parliament here should lead the way because it is about the composition of the European Parliament,”  Verhofstadt said.

He believes the Parliament could approve the proposal by end of December, January 2018.

The Union of European Federalists said the fairer winds of the economy and of citizen sentiment could push the European ship towards hopeful and prosper shores. “Yet, “Ignoranti quem portum petat nullus suus ventus estwrote Seneca 2000 years ago. We believe the President should support the Parliament in proposing that, in 2019, there will be a Pan-European Electoral College for electing Members of the European Parliament (MEPs),” a statement issued on Monday read.