UK Politics

European Parliament to consider plan to increase size

The European Parliament building in Strasbourg
Image caption European elections are held every five years

The European Parliament is to consider a plan to increase its size by 25 MEPs.

Proposals put forward by Liberal Democrat MEP Andrew Duff would see the extra members elected on a pan-EU basis rather than representing individual countries as 751 members currently do.

The move would require the approval of all 27 EU member states.

Mr Duff said it would give the Parliament more "popular legitimacy" but Tory MEP Ashley Fox said it was "nonsense" and UK should veto the idea.

'New powers'

The idea to increase the legislature's size was one of a number of proposals - including moving elections to the European Parliament from June to May - backed by the European Parliament's Constitutional Affairs Committee on Tuesday by 20 votes to four.

The European Parliament will consider the proposals - which are intended to take effect in time for the next election in 2014 - in June.

Under the proposals, citizens of EU member states would cast two ballots in elections to the Parliament every five years.

They would continue to elect 750 MEPs, plus the president of the Parliament, in the way they do now. They are selected from lists drawn up by political parties in each member country, in proportion to the share of the vote parties receive in different electoral regions.

However, under the new plans, a second ballot would take place to elect an extra 25 MEPs. They would represent a single transnational constituency and be chosen from EU-wide political groups rather than individual national parties such as the Lib Dems, Conservatives and Labour.

These pan-EU lists would have to contain representatives from at least 13 countries and have a minimum number of female and male representatives.

A new elections watchdog would be set up to oversee the results of the second ballot although votes would be counted on a national basis in each country.

Mr Duff, Lib Dem MEP for the East of England, argued the changes would "enhance the European dimension" of election campaigns.

"The opportunity of using a second vote for transnational MEPs should galvanise voters who have come to recognise that national political parties no longer work to sustain European integration in an efficient or democratic way," he said.

"We are seeking to exploit for the first time the new powers we have as a result of the Lisbon Treaty to improve the popular legitimacy of this House. We have a great chance to establish a coherent modernisation of the electoral procedure."

'Out of touch'

BBC Political Correspondent Carole Walker said the move - which would require changes to an existing EU Treaty and therefore the backing of all member states - had attracted a hostile reaction from Tory MEPs.

"This kind of nonsense is the reason why people are turning against the EU," Mr Fox, who voted against the plan, said. "At a time of economic austerity the last thing the British taxpayer wants to pay for is an extra 25 MEPs across Europe plus the cost of a European electoral authority to oversee the process."

The Conservative MEP for South West England said the plan's advocates were "out of touch" with public opinion and he expected the UK would veto the idea if it ever came to a vote on the matter at the European Council.

"I cannot remember a single person on the doorstep who has told me they would ever support a move," he added.

If successful, the move would contrast with plans to shrink the Westminster Parliament from 650 to 600 MPs after the next election.

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