Distribution of seats in the European Parliament

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In this paper for the Robert Schuman Foundation, Thierry Chopin and Jean-François Jeannet explore the available options for distributing seats in the European Parliament, aiming to determine which best satisfies both democratic and diplomatic issues.

The authors first examine the institutional context of the imminent re-distribution of MEP seats. The new distribution could appear as an additional element on the path towards the democratisation of the European institutions, notes the paper.

The number of seats per member state is indeed currently far from the principle of equality, the authors say. For example, the number of MEPs per citizen is higher in Finland than in France, while this number should be proportionally equal in every member state, they add. The options that will be discussed at the Lisbon Council on 18 and 19 October will therefore have to meet a number of requirements: 

  • Respecting the IGC mandate: the total number of MEPs should be limited to 750, the maximum number of seats per member state to capped at 96 – with the minimum set at six – and seats distributed according to the principle of “declining proportionality”. 
  • Meeting the democratic criteria: the number of citizens per MEP should vary as little as possible from one country to another; 
  • Taking into account diplomatic constraints: this is due to the fact that each member state wants to secure extra places – despite the principle of equality. 

Furthermore, the authors compare the current distribution of seats – which neither respects the IGC mandate, nor the principle of “declining proportionality” – with the other various options that have already been discussed in Parliament. 

They conclude by making the following new proposals: 

  • Robert Schuman proposal 1: this proposal makes the democratic criteria a priority rather than a diplomatic constraint. Concerning the diplomatic issue, this proposal would give the higher number of seats to Poland, Spain, France, Italy, and the United Kingdom. However, member states losing MEP seats would keep a much higher number of MEPs per citizen. 
  • Robert Schuman proposal 2: this proposal sets the diplomatic constraint as a priority before the principle of equality. This distribution would be based on the one agreed in the Nice Treaty and modified by the Romanian and Bulgarian accession treaties – with 16 additional seats allocated in accordance with the IGC mandate. 

Moreover, a review clause should allow the reassessment of the distribution of seats every two legislature in order to take into account demographic evolutions, the authors say. Setting the diplomatic constraint as a priority – as in the second proposal – would be relevant to a short-term concern instead of adressing european citizens concerns, conclude the authors. 

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