France to pick ‘phantom MEPs’ from parliament

Tiered services. US, 2009.

French Prime Minister François Fillon asked the president of the National Assembly, the country’s parliament, on Monday (30 November) to send two members to Strasbourg, one from the majority and one from the opposition, to avoid “useless controversies” over the identity of the extra MEP seats created by the Lisbon Treaty. EURACTIV France contributed to this article.

In a letter sent on 30 November, PM Fillon asked Bernard Accoyer, president of the ‘Assemblée Nationale‘, to designate the two new MEPs “as soon as possible” from the ranks of the lower house of parliament.

With the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty on Tuesday (1 December 2009), twelve EU member states have to decide how to choose their new ‘Lisbon MEPs’.

  • Spain got four additional seats;
  • Austria, France and Sweden each got two seats;
  • Bulgaria, Italy, Latvia, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland, Slovenia and the UK each received one additional MEP each.

However, as EURACTIV had earlier reported, the situation in France has remained unclear until now (EURACTIV 06/11/09).

France, which elected 72 MEPs in June 2009, did not decide before the European elections on what basis the country’s two new seats would be allocated, if and when the Lisbon Treaty were to be approved across the EU.

According to the chosen method, one MEP will be chosen from “the majority group” and the other one from the “opposition” in order to avoid “useless controversies,” Fillon wrote in the letter.

Greens claim at least one additional seat

However, this method has not been endorsed by all MEPs. “It is a democratic aberration,” said Green MEP Sandrine Bélier, calling for the results of the June European elections to be taken into consideration as was the case in other countries like Spain, Sweden, Malta, the United Kingdom and Poland.

In France, the Greens’ ‘Europe Ecologie’ list surprisingly obtained 16.3% of the vote, finishing just behind the socialist party (16.5%) and the ruling centre-right UMP party of French President Nicolas Sarkozy (27.8%) (see full French results here).

Having scored so well, they claim they are entitled to at least one additional seat from the North-West constituency, which would see them overtake the socialist party to become France’s second-largest delegation in the Strasbourg assembly (EURACTIV 06/11/09).

“How will these new MEPs be chosen? For their merit or because they are useless at the National Assembly?” asked Bélier ironically.

“All solutions are bad,” said Catherine Trautmann, president of the French socialist delegation in the European Parliament. “We should have elected 72 MEPs plus two additional MEPs in June,” she added. Trautmann deplored the lack of transparency, which she said would “weaken the credibility of our mandate”.

The president of the National Assembly said he “completely agreed” with François Fillon’s request to have one MEP from the majority and the other one from the opposition. However, he conceded that the designation system among national deputies remains unclear. “We should take a step back,” Accoyer said.

It appears that the MEP to be chosen from the “opposition” ranks in the National Assembly could either come from the Socialist Party or the Greens. Both parties currently have 14 MEPs in Brussels and one will therefore emerge the stronger despite both having recorded similar scores in the June elections.

“The decision taken in December 2008 by heads of state and government will be included with the new accession treaty of Croatia, to be approved probably by the end of 2011. However, no precise timing has been set and this might even take longer,” an European Parliament official told EURACTIV.

Until then, the new MEPs will be given ‘observer’ status. They will not have the right to vote, but they will be able to participate in all the workings of the European Parliament, including committee meetings.

“The European Parliament’s constitutional affairs committee discussed the issue this week and will submit a question to the Spanish EU Presidency, but no timetable is foreseen yet,” a European Parliament press officer told EURACTIV.

Spain, which will assume the EU’s six-month rotating presidency from January, “could try to find a way to solve the problem and hurry the ratification,” a source told EURACTIV France. But Spanish Socialist MEP Ramón Jáuregui indicated earlier this week that while it was the incoming Spanish EU Presidency’s intention to use as quick a procedure as possible to ensure that the observers become full MEPs, the process could easily last the whole of 2010 or even longer. Spain, which with four new parliamentarians is by far the biggest winner in the new MEP stakes, would like the ‘phantoms’ to become full members rapidly to increase the country’s clout in the Parliament.

The other ‘phantom MEPs’:

SpainSergio Gutiérrez and María Irigoyen (PSOE) will join the S&D group, and Eva Ortiz (PP) and Salvador Sedó (CiU, a Catalonian party) will join the EPP.

AustriaJosef Weidenholzer (SPÖ) and Jörg Freunschlag (BZÖ) are the two new Austrian MEPs. They see themselves as “second class” MEPs and hope to get a full mandate as soon as possible, the Austrian press reports.

SwedenAmelia Andersdotter, a 22-year-old activist from the Pirate Party will become the Parliament’s youngest member. Earlier this year, the Pirate Party caused a media sensation when it became Sweden’s fourth-largest political force (EURACTIV 22/04/09). The Pirates, whose political message focuses on copyright law reform, abolishing patents and increased privacy rights for EU citizens, won enough votes in June’s European elections to have one MEP elected.

The second Swedish observer MEP is Jens Nilsson from the opposition Social Democratic party.

BulgariaSvetoslav Malinov, a political scientist and activist of the EPP-affiliated Democrats for a Strong Bulgaria (DSB) is expected to get the additional seat according to June’s results.

Italy: Like in France and in the UK, the regional system makes the situation unclear. “No names are circulating yet,” an official from the European Parliament told EURACTIV yesterday (2 December). Italian sources also told EURACTIV that the process of selecting the phantom MEP is not high on the agenda. “It might take several months before it is solved and it might even be necessary for the Italian parliament to vote on it,” they said.

Latvia: K?rlis Šadurskis is a member of the Civic Union party (Pilsonisk? savien?ba), affiliated to the EPP group in the European Parliament.

MaltaJoseph Cuschieri (Labour Party) will be the sixth Maltese MEP. “Following last June’s EP elections it was decided that the runner up to the first five elected MEPs would automatically qualify for Malta’s extra new seat when it becomes available,” the Times of Malta reports.

The NetherlandsLucas Hartong, currently an MEP assistant, will get the additional seat. He is from the anti-immigration Freedom Party (PVV) who became the second-largest political force at June elections. With this additional seat, the Christian Democrats (CDA) and the PVV will both have five seats.

PolandEdward Wojtas, a national MP from the peasant part PSL, will be the 51st Polish MEP. He will seat in the EPP group with his three colleagues from the PSL. Even if the country is divided in constituencies, he was designated “according to the results of the June elections,” an EPP press officer told EURACTIV.

Slovenia: Considering the results of the European Parliament elections in Slovenia, the eighth Slovenian MEP will be Zofija Mazej Kukovic of the opposition Democratic Party (SDS). She will sit in the EPP group.

The United Kingdom: As reported by EURACTIV, in the UK – which stands to gain one additional MEP – the independent electoral commission already has a system in place to decide which region will receive the extra member (EURACTIV 06/11/09). 

Last month, British sources told EURACTIV that the most likely outcome of the process would see an additional Conservative MEP elected from the West Midlands region. According to June’s election results, this would be Tory candidate Anthea McIntyre

However, European Parliament sources yesterday (2 December) told EURACTIV that the result may not yet be final, as there is a potential row brewing in the UK. Apparently, the Scotland and London Electoral Regions are seeking an exception to the existing rules so that their region would receive the new MEP.

The Nice Treaty provides for 736 MEPs, while the Lisbon Treaty foresees a maximum of 751 MEPs (750 MEPs plus the Parliament president).

However, as agreed at the December 2008 EU summit, the number of MEPs will be increased to 754 until 2014 in order to keep 99 MEPs for Germany. After 2014, the number will fall to 96.

In summit conclusions reached in 2008, EU leaders envisaged that the 18 new MEPs would assume their full responsibilities "if possible during the year 2010".

Accordingly, the European Parliament earlier this year created a so-called 'observer status' to allow these MEPs to bridge the gap between the Nice and Lisbon Treaties (EURACTIV 25/05/09).

The practice of granting observer status to MEPs is not new, and has been used in recent years when new countries joined the EU. 

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