The UK formally left the European Union on 31 January 2020, reducing the EU to 27 Member States. This has resulted in some key changes to the composition of the EU institutions, of which public policy professionals should be aware.
Here is our guide to the main changes.
WHAT ARE THE MEP CHANGES?
For the European Parliament, there are two major consequences. Firstly, all 73 UK MEPs left the European Parliament as of 1 February 2020. Secondly, some of these seats were redistributed to other EU Member States (MEPs).
The EU chose to redistribute some of the seats in the European Parliament prior to the 2019 elections in anticipation of the UK’s departure. So instead of the Parliament simply reducing the number of seats from 751 to 678, 27 seats were redistributed to ensure a rebalanced composition. The Parliament, therefore, now has 705 sitting MEPs.
The remaining 46 seats will be kept in reserve in case new countries join the EU in the future, or “transnational constituencies”are created– a new idea supported by some political groups.
The 27 new seats were taken up by new MEPs from the following 14 Member States: France (+5), Spain (+5), Italy (+3), the Netherlands (+3), Ireland (+2), Sweden (+1), Austria (+1), Denmark (+1), Finland (+1), Slovakia (+1), Croatia (+1), Estonia (+1), Poland (+1) and Romania (+1). See a full list of the new MEPs at the end of this article.
No need for further elections as these MEPs were already elected in 2019 in anticipation of the UK’s departure!
Meanwhile in the Council of the European Union, the major consequence is a shift in possible alliances and voting thresholds as a direct consequence of the departure of the UK.
SO WHAT DOES IT MEAN?
In the European Parliament the balance of the different political groups has changed.
The biggest winners are the centre-right European People's Party (EPP), which gained the most now with 187 MEPs (up from 182), and the eurosceptic Identity & Democracy (ID), which added three more MEPs for a total of 76.
This means that Identity & Democracy overtook the Greens/EFA group to become the 4th largest in the European Parliament. The European People's Party remains the largest political group, but might lose 12 MEPs if its Hungarian member Fidesz leaves the group after being suspended due to concerns over democracy and rule of law.
The biggest losers were the centrist Renew Europe group (which lost 11 seats) and Greens/EFA (which lost 7 seats). Renew Europe remains the 3rd largest group (after the European People's Party and the centre left Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D)) as France gained 5 new MEPs in the redistribution of seats with two of them going to Renew Europe. Additionally, on 12 February 2020 an Italian political party Italia Viva announced that they would leave the S&D group and join Renew Europe. This means that the centrist group gained another MEP 98 MEPs.
Despite the Greens/EFA group having made overall gains during the 2019 election, the UK’s departure now means it is down to 68 MEPs. Although the group is now smaller than before, they are still expected to play a role when forming alliances with the top largest groups.
In the Council, the power dynamics have changed. For most legislation, the required qualified majority in the Council (representing 55% of Member States representing 65% of the EU population) will now require 15 Member States rather than 16.
France and Germany will also represent just over 33% of the EU population, this means that France and Germany can play key roles in potentially forming blocking minorities with other Member States which increases their bargaining power.
Overall the larger Member States gain numerical voting power, especially in the case of a qualified majority with a non-participating Member States (the reinforced qualified majority rule) where the voting power of all Member States increases in proportion to their population size.
The new composition of the European Parliament and the new power relationship in the Council should be observed closely.
Analysis suggests that the thresholds for a blocking minority in the Council could be harder to attain in the future. A blocking minority needs at least four Member States representing at least 35% of the population.
Mathematically, the blocking minority requirement has increased but in practice this remains to be seen - the question will be how the Member States find new coalitions. A lot will also depend on Germany and France and their relationship in the future.
The UK’s former closest allies, Sweden, the Netherlands and Denmark, will now need to find other ways of projecting power. One idea is a so-called ‘Hanze coalition’ of the Scandinavian, Baltic and Benelux countries with Ireland, although this would not be enough for a blocking minority.
One key area of contention is currently the EU’s 7-year budget the Multiannual Financial Framework, this may provide some insight into future coalitions and the functioning of the European Parliament.
Here are the new MEPs who now joined the European Parliament:
( a ) Austria (1 new seat) Thomas Waitz (Greens/EFA)
( b ) Croatia (1) Romana Jerković (S&D)
( c ) Denmark (1) Linea Søgaard-Lidell (Renew Europe)
( d ) Estonia (1) Riho Terras (EPP)
( e ) Finland (1) Alviina Alametsä (Greens/EFA)
( f ) France (5) Ilana Cicurel (Renew Europe), Sandro Gozi (Renew Europe), Claude Gruffat (Greens/EFA), Jean-Lin Lacapelle (Identity & Democracy), Nora Mebarek (S&D)
( g ) Ireland (2) Barry Andrews (Renew Europe), Deirdre Clune (EPP)
( h ) Italy (3) Sergio Berlato (ECR), Salvatore De Meo (EPP), Vincenzo Sofo (Identity & Democracy)
( i ) Netherlands (3) Dorien Rookmaker (non-attached member), Marcel de Graaff (Identity and Democracy), Bart Groothuis (Renew Europe)
( j ) Poland (1) Dominik Tarczyński (ECR)
( k ) Romania (1) Victor Negrescu (S&D)
( l ) Slovakia (1) Miriam Lexmann (EPP)
( m ) Spain (5) Margarita de la Pisa Carrión (ECR), Gabriel Mato (EPP), Clara Ponsatí Obiols (non-attached Member), Marcos Ros Sempere (S&D), Adrián Vázquez Lázara (Renew Europe)
( n ) Sweden (1) Jakop Dalunde (Greens/EFA)