Italy says Parliament reshuffle ‘unacceptable’

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New plans for the distribution of MEPs’ seats have come under attack by Italy, which risks losing out on equal footing with France and the UK. Prime Minister Romano Prodi said Italy might block the new system from being inserted in the new EU Treaty to be agreed at a summit in Lisbon next week.

Parliament’s plan was set to encounter the “traditional horse-trading between member states”, but Italy is already picking a turf fight ahead of a decisive summit next week. 

Following a meeting with Commission President José Manuel Barroso on 10 October, Italian Prime Minister and former Commission President Romano Prodi said that the country would not block the new EU Treaty to be agreed next week, but might insist on keeping the seat distribution plan out of the text.

“This has got nothing to do with the treaty itself, the treaty can be approved … without any impact of the number of seats in the parliament,” Prodi was quoted as saying by the Associated Press after the meeting.

Under the plan, Italy would only get 72 MEPs and thus lose its equal footing with France (74) and the UK (73), starting from the 2009-2014 parliamentary term.

Italy argues that the proposal is unfair, because it is based on each member states’ population rather than the number of citizens, and thus favours countries with large numbers of immigrants, such as France and the UK.

"The members of the European Parliament represent the citizens of the Union. The redistribution of seats based on the number of residents, rather than citizens, is contrary to the spirit of the treaty and is therefore unacceptable," Italian Europe Minister Emma Bonino stated last week.

But Liberal MEP and shadow rapporteur on the Treaty, Andrew Duff, said that "it would be folly for the heads of government to question the considered decision of MEPs on this matter, as governments left to their own devices are hardly likely to be able to reach unanimity on any alternative proposal."

In a related development, Maltese MEPs Simon Busuttil and David Casa (EPP-ED)  expressed "surprise and disbelief" at comments made by Romano Prodi in an Italian newspaper regarding Malta's generous treatment under the new seating proposal. "And what about Malta! 6 MEPs like Slovenia! How can this be?," Prodi was quoted as saying. 

In a statement, the two MEPs said Prodi should have known better and "got his facts wrong on at least three counts." "Malta 's six seats are already in the Reform Treaty and the European Constitution, both of which establish a minimum threshold of six seats", the MEPs noted. "He is also wrong on Slovenia, which was allocated 8 seats, not 6, and is therefore not on the same level as Malta." they said.

The new seating plan drafted by French MEP Alain Lamassoure (EPP-ED) and Romanian MEP Adrian Severin (PES) won a wide majority in the Parliament's plenary on 12 October, with 378 votes in favour, 154 against and 109 abstentions. 

However, the revised seat distribution, for inclusion in the new EU Treaty set to be agreed upon by EU leaders at an informal Summit on 18-19 October, is already under fire from Italy.

The proposal foresees a reduction in the current number of seats (785) following the admission of Romania and Bulgaria earlier this year, to a new limit of 750 seats. 

The number of MEPs per member state will be allocated according to the principle of "degressive proportionality", designed to better reflect the demographic reality in member states, without insisting upon strict proportionality in order to ensure that small countries are well represented.

  • 15-16 Oct. 2007: Duff, along with his colleagues Elmar Brok (EPP-ED) and Enrique Baron Crespo (PES), are to present Parliament's resolution at the foreign ministers' meeting in Luxembourg.
  • 18-19 Oct. 2007: Heads of state and governments are to decide upon the final EU Treaty text at an informal Summit in Lisbon.

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