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 Download PDF More on this topic

Policy Contribution

Equity finance and capital market integration in Europe

Facilitating the financing of European companies through external equity is a central ambition of European Union financial regulation, including in the European Commission’s capital markets union agenda. Against this background, the authors examine the present use of external equity by EU companies, the roles of listings on public markets, and the regulatory impediments in national laws. They assess to what extent EU market integration has overcome the crucial obstacle of shallow local capital markets.

By: Inês Goncalves Raposo and Alexander Lehmann Topic: Finance & Financial Regulation Date: January 17, 2019
Read article More on this topic More by this author

Podcast

Podcast

Director's Cut: The economics of no-deal Brexit

Bruegel director Guntram Wolff is joined by senior fellow Zsolt Darvas to rake through the possibilities and probabilities inherent in a no-deal Brexit scenario, covering trade, the Irish border, citizens' rights and the EU budget.

By: The Sound of Economics Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Date: January 16, 2019
Read article More by this author

Blog Post

What 2019 could bring: A look inside the crystal ball

Economic performance prospects in Europe, the US and Asia in 2019. We start off by reviewing commentaries and predictions about the euro zone, which many commentators expect to perform below potential as uncertainties continue to dampen a still robust recovery.

By: Michael Baltensperger Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance, Global Economics & Governance Date: January 14, 2019
Read article More on this topic More by this author

Blog Post

EU budget implications of a no-deal Brexit

A no-deal Brexit would mean the UK’s contributions to the EU budget fall to zero as of March 30th 2019. The author here calculates an estimate of the budget shortfall that would have to be covered in this case, and how the burden would fall across different member states.

By: Zsolt Darvas Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Date: January 14, 2019
Read article Download PDF More on this topic More by this author

Policy Contribution

The implications of no-deal Brexit: is the European Union prepared?

The author, based on a note written for the Bundestag EU Committee, is exploring the possible consequences of a no-deal Brexit for the EU, assessing preparations on the EU side and providing guidance on the optimal strategy for the EU, depending on the choices made by the United Kingdom.

By: Guntram B. Wolff Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Date: January 14, 2019
Read article Download PDF More by this author

Parliamentary Testimony

German Bundestag

The implications of no-deal Brexit: is the EU prepared?

Hearing on Brexit in the EU Committee of Bundestag on 14 January 2019, exploring the possible consequences of a no-deal Brexit for the EU and assessing preparations on the EU side.

By: Guntram B. Wolff Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance, German Bundestag, Testimonies Date: January 14, 2019
Read article More by this author

Podcast

Podcast

Director’s cut: Wrapping up 2018

With 2018 drawing to a close, and the dawn of 2019 imminent, Bruegel's scholars reflect on the economic policy developments we can expect in the new year – one that brings with it the additional uncertainty of European elections.

By: The Sound of Economics Topic: Energy & Climate, European Macroeconomics & Governance, Finance & Financial Regulation, Global Economics & Governance, Innovation & Competition Policy Date: December 20, 2018
Read article More on this topic More by this author

Blog Post

Brexit: Now for something completely different?

The life of Brexit. After a week of ECJ rulings, delayed votes, Theresa May’s errands across Europe and the vote of no confidence, we review the latest economists’ opinions to try to make sense of what has changed and what hasn’t.

By: Inês Goncalves Raposo Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Date: December 17, 2018
Read article More on this topic

Opinion

How a second referendum could be the best way to overcome Brexit impasse

A new vote based on the revocation (or not) of Article 50 would give the UK government a clear signal to proceed in one direction or another, and thus trim down the number of options being touted – most of which are unworkable as things stand.

By: Maria Demertzis and Nicola Viegi Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Date: December 14, 2018
Read article Download PDF More on this topic More by this author

Essay / Lecture

A new statistical system for the European Union

Quality statistics are essential to economic policy. In this essay, Andreas Georgiou demonstrates the existence of fundamental risks inherent in the European Statistical System. He argues that a paradigm shift is necessary and sets out a model that would deliver the quality statistics the European Union needs.

By: Andreas Georgiou Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Date: December 12, 2018
Read article More on this topic More by this author

Blog Post

The Brexit withdrawal agreement

On November 14th the UK government cabinet approved the draft text of the withdrawal agreement, the deal reached between EU and UK negotiators. The decision was followed the next day by the resignations of several members of Parliament. We review the first reactions in the blogosphere.

By: Silvia Merler Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Date: November 19, 2018
Read article More on this topic More by this author

Podcast

Podcast

Director’s Cut: Options yet open for a Brexit deal

Robin Niblett, director of Chatham House institute, joins Bruegel deputy director Maria Demertzis for an assessment of what progress can be reasonably expected from the final months of the Brexit negotiations.

By: The Sound of Economics Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Date: November 7, 2018
Load more posts