The European Parliament is hesitating on whether to allow pan-EU candidates to contest the elections in 2019 following Britain’s departure from the European Union.
MEPs in the constitutional affairs committee in Strasbourg on Monday (11 September) debated the future composition of the EU parliament, given the dozens of seats that will be left in the wake of the UK’s exit in March 2019.
Both the Greens and Liberals are demanding that the parliament pushes for the creation of a transnational list of European candidates, but the committee’s chair, Polish centre-right MEP Danuta Huebner, said the legal basis is missing.
“We have a situation where Brexit, the fact that one of the member states will be leaving the European Union, is strongly limiting the legal and political certainty of the whole process,” she said.
Huebner, who had co-drafted a report on the issue with Portuguese socialist Pedro Silva Pereira, also noted that Brexit may not actually happen on March 2019.
“Until we have legal certainty, meaning that the withdrawal of the UK takes effect, we cannot have the redistribution of any British seats, so we propose to maintain the status quo,” Huebner said.
A new proposal on parliament’s composition would then take place after the UK leaves.
That proposal reduces the size of the EU parliament and ensures no loss of seats among the member states, as part of a new system that aims to iron out the current flaws. These flaws have created unequal representation among member states.
It would also redistribute 22 British seats among member states and open up the possibility of setting aside 51 for a transnational list.
In 2015, the EU parliament had also adopted a proposal to set up transnational lists, but it was never ratified.
But the move for a pan-EU party of MEPs has since gained traction among some member states, with France’s president, Emmanuel Macron, saying it would be a step towards deepening democracy and unity in an often fragmented bloc.
France wants some of the seats left behind from the UK’s exit to be assigned to a pan-European list – a move that is also supported by Italy.
A missed opportunity for EU democracy
The leader of the liberal group, Belgian MEP Guy Verhofstadt, contested Huebner’s legal argument, noting that the EU parliament risks missing a historic moment.
“It’s the first time this is happening in my life, that member states are now urging us to build up this pan-European democracy and we are hesitating to do so,” he said.
His views were echoed by German Green Sven Giegold, who too described the opportunity as a prime moment to make the move forward “in the sense of European democracy.”
Giegold said Huebner’s report was politically compromised because it provided no guarantee of setting up a system of pan-EU MEPs.
He noted that Brexit presented a unique opportunity to push the issue as leverage with member states – especially given that the EU parliament must agree to any deal when the UK leaves the bloc.
“We don’t have common credible programmes, we don’t have European parties which truly hold European electoral congresses,” Giegold said.