Blog Post

Difficulties and opportunities in reallocating European Parliament seats after Brexit

The European Parliament must carefully consider the reallocation of seats after Brexit, allowing for a potential shift in political alignment and working within parameters already agreed with Member States.

By: Date: February 5, 2018 Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance

The European Parliament will soon recommend to the European Council a new distribution of parliamentary seats per Member State after Brexit. In the UK, 73 MEPs are elected; their seats in the Parliament can either be dropped or reallocated to other countries. This potential reallocation is hugely important for Europe – not only could it change political majorities in the European Parliament, it will also affect representativeness with regards to EU citizens in different Member States.

In itself the departure of the UK will already affect the proportions of political parties in the next European Parliament; there will be no UKIP, no Conservatives, nor any Labour representatives. As the Conservatives are not members of the European People’s Party (EPP) group, but Labour is part of Socialists and Democrats (S&D), Brexit will tend to strengthen the EPP relative to S&D.

Hypothetically dropping the seats of all 73 British MEPs and applying the votes of the 2014 elections would strengthen the EPP, their current share of 28.9% rising to 32%. Meanwhile, S&D and European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) would lose vote weight, but the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) would gain.

As seats get reallocated to different countries, the process will further strengthen and weaken different party groups – to the extent that majorities will be different across countries. For example, in the proposal to be voted by the Parliament on February 7th, France would gain seats. Depending on the majorities in France, this can affect majorities in the European Parliament.

But beyond these political shifts, which in any case occur with every election, the reallocation of seats also has implications for the degree of representativeness. While the European Parliament is the parliament representing EU citizens, some EU citizens count for more than others.

There are 72,400 Maltese citizens for each MEP from Malta, while there are more than 900,000 citizens for every MEP from France – currently the worst ratio in the EU. Such an unequal distribution is very unusual in most national parliaments.

The European Parliament’s low degree of representativeness is a result of ambiguity in the EU treaties which, as former MEP Andrew Duff put it, “reflects a giant historical compromise between the international law principle of the equality of states and the democratic motto of ‘One person, one vote’”.

Transnational lists would be a good start to a truly pan-European democracy

In the current EU lawmaking process, inequality of representation in the European Parliament is offset by a representative council where voting rules are linked to population size. Yet the low degree of representativeness should be a concern to members of the European Parliament if it wants to be seen as the institution representing EU citizens. This is particularly the case as the Parliament strives to have stronger powers, including over taxation.

For example, the stated aim to control the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) is hard to imagine in the current vote distribution – unless of course the Member States continue to call the shots. Much higher degrees of representation would be needed for the parliament to be directly in charge of the ESM tax resources:  as the historical phrase goes: “No taxation without representation.” The more federal Europe wants to become, the more the Parliament should become representative – while the Council should more equally represent the member states.

Brexit offered an opportunity to somewhat increase representativeness without any treaty changes, while still respecting that smaller Member States should have a much larger share of the votes than their population size suggests. But this would have involved losses of seats for some countries and the European Parliament has from the outset ruled that out. The final allocation proposal decided within the Parliament’s Committee on Constitutional Affairs (AFCO) therefore decreases representativeness relative to the current situation.

Nevertheless, the current proposal does slightly better than simply dropping the 73 British seats. It gives more seats to France, Italy, and Spain but also to most mid-sized countries. It results in a Parliament of 705 MEPs, leaving 46 seats empty that could be used for transnational lists as indicated in the proposal. These transnational lists, or “joint constituencies”, would be a major development in European politics if accepted by the Council. While MEPs elected on transnational lists may be more distant to citizens, they would be elected Europe-wide and would therefore be a good start to a truly pan-European democracy.

The European Parliament’s vote on the distribution of these 73 seats is important for the future of Europe. The short-term consequences for political majorities could even affect the party affiliation of the next Commission President. In the longer term, low degrees of representativeness will limit the ability of the parliament to demand more control of resources.  MEPs should carefully reflect on their upcoming decision.


Republishing and referencing

Bruegel considers itself a public good and takes no institutional standpoint. Anyone is free to republish and/or quote this post without prior consent. Please provide a full reference, clearly stating Bruegel and the relevant author as the source, and include a prominent hyperlink to the original post.

View comments
Read article More on this topic More by this author

Opinion

Portugal in a new context of capital flows

The euro area is now the world’s largest exporter of capital. Here we look at the post-crisis transition of one euro-area country – Portugal – from net recipient to net provider of capital, in the context of the European Commission’s plans for deeper capital markets.

By: Inês Goncalves Raposo Topic: Finance & Financial Regulation Date: February 20, 2018
Read article More on this topic More by this author

Blog Post

Green bonds: who is to certify ‘sustainability’?

Poland’s issue of a green bond earlier this month was the country’s second financing of this type, and the first ever repeat issue by a sovereign. It has revived the debate as to whether there should be a single regulatory standard to certify the environmental quality of financial assets. This will be a key issue for the EU’s sustainable finance strategy which is due to be released shortly.

By: Alexander Lehmann Topic: Finance & Financial Regulation Date: February 19, 2018
Read article More on this topic More by this author

Podcast

Podcast

Brexit consequences for EU climate and energy policy

Bruegel fellow Georg Zachmann joins Richard Tol, professor in the Department of Economics at the University of Sussex, and Pieter-Willem Lemmens, head of analysis at the climate policy think-tank Sandbag, for this episode of 'The Sound of Economics', to discuss the impact of Brexit on climate and energy policy in the European Union.

By: The Sound of Economics Topic: Energy & Climate Date: February 15, 2018
Read article More on this topic More by this author

Podcast

Podcast

European Parliament: More representative post-Brexit?

Bruegel director Guntram Wolff features in this episode of 'The Sound of Economics', highlighting how a reallocation of seats in the European Parliament following Brexit provides the opportunity to make the institution more representative of EU citizens.

By: The Sound of Economics Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Date: February 5, 2018
Read article Download PDF More on this topic

Blueprint

People on the move: migration and mobility in the European Union

Migration is one of the most divisive policy topics in today’s Europe. In this publication, the authors assess the immigration challenge that the EU faces, analyse public perceptions, map migration patterns in the EU and review the literature on the economic impact of immigration to reflect on immigration policies and the role of private institutions in fostering integration.

By: Uuriintuya Batsaikhan, Zsolt Darvas and Inês Goncalves Raposo Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Date: January 22, 2018
Read article Download PDF More on this topic

External Publication

Analysis of development in EU capital flows in the global context

The monitoring and analysis of capital movements is essential for policymakers, given that capital flows can have welfare implications. This report, commissioned by the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Financial Stability, Financial Services and Capital Markets Union, aims to analyse capital movements in the European Union in a global context.

By: Grégory Claeys, Maria Demertzis, Konstantinos Efstathiou, Inês Goncalves Raposo, Pia Hüttl and Alexander Lehmann Topic: Finance & Financial Regulation Date: January 15, 2018
Read article More on this topic More by this author

Blog Post

Bad News and Good News for the Single Resolution Board

A first report on a key plank of the European Union’s banking union reflects on shortcomings thus far, but also suggests that recent improvements might ultimately lead the SRB to be successful in its critical missions.

By: Nicolas Véron Topic: Finance & Financial Regulation Date: January 15, 2018
Read article More on this topic

Blog Post

Does the European Parliament miss an opportunity to reform after Brexit?

While Brexit negotiations are beginning to progress, the European Parliament is preparing to vote on the possible reallocation of seats following the UK's departure. With many of the current proposals reflecting Member States' concerns about losing seats, this paper advocates for options that could better achieve equality of representation even within the constraints of the EU treaties.

By: Robert Kalcik, Nicolas Moës and Guntram B. Wolff Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Date: January 10, 2018
Read article Download PDF More by this author

Policy Contribution

European Parliament

Bank liquidation in the European Union: clarification needed

Critical functions and public interest. What role do they play in Member States’ decision to grant liquidation aid? The author of this paper looks at how resolution and liquidation differ substantially when it comes to the scope of legislation applicable to the use of public funds and how the diversity in national insolvency regimes is a source of uncertainty about the outcome of liquidation procedures.

By: Silvia Merler Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance, European Parliament, Finance & Financial Regulation, Testimonies Date: January 10, 2018
Read article More on this topic More by this author

Opinion

Opportunities and risks in Europe in 2018

The new year could very well see the positive story of 2017 continue in Europe – but a number of looming policy and political problems cannot be ignored.

By: Guntram B. Wolff Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Date: December 30, 2017
Read article Download PDF

External Publication

European Parliament

The Impact of Brexit on the EU Energy System

What will be the impact of Brexit on the EU energy system? With or without the UK, the EU will be able to complete its market, to achieve its climate and energy targets with feasible readjustments, and to maintain supply security

By: Gustav Fredriksson, Alexander Roth, Simone Tagliapietra and Georg Zachmann Topic: Energy & Climate, European Macroeconomics & Governance, European Parliament, Testimonies Date: December 19, 2017
Read article More on this topic More by this author

Blog Post

Optimistic UK business confidence indicators predict smooth Brexit

UK business confidence indicators hardly fell after the Brexit vote in 2016 and have been increasing steadily since. The most likely reason is an expectation of smooth Brexit deal, especially for industry, while there is more uncertainty for services.

By: Zsolt Darvas Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Date: December 19, 2017
Load more posts