The Guest Blog

Guest post by Nicholas Whyte, Senior Director of APCO Global Solutions.


The proposed new allocation of European Parliament seats may benefit ALDE and the EPP, at the expense of the Left and the hard Right.

This week’s European Council meeting will consider the European Parliament’s proposals for the reallocation of MEPs between the different member states. This has been made possible by Brexit, which frees up the 73 British seats, and it is necessary because there is already disproportionality in the system – Spain, for instance, has more than 75% of Italy’s population but less than 75% of Italy’s MEPs. (Andrew Duff has more on the problematic political mathematics)

The Parliament’s proposal, which is the only one on the table, gives 5 extra seats to Spain and France, 3 to Italy and the Netherlands, 2 to Ireland and 1 each to Poland, Romania, Sweden, Austria, Denmark, Slovakia, Finland, Croatia, and Estonia, the other 13 remaining member states staying with their current allocation. That’s 27 of the 73 former British seats; the remaining 46 will be held in reserve for future enlargements (though none are expected before the election after next) or for transnational lists (which however seem unlikely to come into force for 2019).

How would the 2014 election have played out under the proposed new rules? It’s an interesting thought experiment. Most member states elect their MEPs on nation-wide lists, so it’s pretty straightforward to calculate which parties would have been next in line for extra seats. In France, Italy and Ireland, we have to make some additional assumptions about how the extra seats will be allocated. (In France, of course, there is also a proposal to elect from national lists in 2014 rather than regional lists, but we are not looking at that here.)

Most of the new seats would have gone to parties already represented in the European Parliament. There are two exceptions. In Italy, I think one of the three extra seats would have gone to the Fratelli d’Italia, who left the EPP just before the election; I am tallying their hypothetical MEP with the Non-Inscrits. In the Netherlands, the 50PLUS party, which represents older people, would have elected their first MEP, who I think would have joined the ALDE group after the election.

Not surprisingly, the biggest losers under the proposed new allocation of seats will be those political groups which are uniquely strong in the UK.

  • The EFDD would have the small compensation of an extra seat for the 5 Star Movement in Italy but would not have won UKIP’s 24 British seats, for a net decrease of 23.
  • The ECR group would not have won the 20 British Conservative and UUP seats, and would have made no gains.
  • The PES would not have won the 20 British Labour seats, but would have picked up eight more in seven other countries (two in Spain, one each in France, Italy, Romania, Sweden, Slovakia and Croatia) for a net decrease of 12.
  • The Greens/EFA would not have won the British Green seats, nor the seats of the Scottish Nationalists and Plaid Cymru, a decrease of 6 with no gains from elsewhere.
The other groups are all net winners.
  • The Non-Inscrits, not really a group of course, would not have had the DUP seat in Northern Ireland, but the Front National would have won two more seats in France, and I count also the Fratelli d’Italia for a net gain of 2.
  • GUE/NGL would not have won Sinn Féin’s seat in Northern Ireland, but would have won extra seats in France, Spain and the Netherlands, also a net increase of 2.
  • ALDE would not have had the sole surviving Lib Dem from the UK, but would have won two more seats in Ireland, probably another two in the Netherlands, and one each in Denmark and Estonia, for a net increase of 5.
  • Finally, the EPP, who have no British seats to lose, would have gained two seats in Spain and one each in France, Poland, Austria and Finland, a total increase of 6.

In the real-life 2014 election, the EPP won 30 seats more than the PES/S&D, despite having several hundred thousand fewer votes. Under 2019 rules, without the British Labour Party’s contribution, the EPP would have led the PES by 4 million votes and 48 MEPs. This significantly increases the already steep hill that the PES need to climb to become the largest party in the next Parliament.

Of course, the votes cast in 2014 are a rather imperfect guide to voter behaviour in 2019. The emergence of President Macron, and the weakening of traditional parties all over the continent, probably indicate that all of the mainstream groups are going to be under pressure next year. But for what it’s worth, it looks like the new seat allocation is going to be kinder to the centre and the centre-right than it is to the left or the hard right.

In detail:

UK – loss of 73 seats:
  • EFDD lose 24 (UKIP)
  • PES lose 20 (Labour)
  • ECR lose 20 (Cons + UUP)
  • Greens lose 6 (Greens, SNP, PC)
  • ALDE lose 1 (Lib Dem)
  • GUE lose 1 (Sinn Féin)
  • NI lose 1 (DUP)
France – 5 extra seats:
assuming that one extra seat would have gone to each of the Nord-Ouest, Ouest, Est, Sud-Ouest and Sud-Est regions, the changes are:
  • NI gain 2 (FN gains in Ouest and Sud-Ouest)
  • EPP gain 1 (UMP gain in Sud-Est)
  • PES gain 1 (PS-PRG gain in Est)
  • GUE gain 1 (FG gain in Nord-Ouest)

Spain – 5 extra seats:

  • EPP gain 2 (PP),
  • PES gain 2 (PSOE),
  • GUE gain 1 (IP/IU)
Italy – 3 extra seats:
assuming that 2 would have gone to the Meridionale region, and 1 to the Islands, the changes are:
  • PES gain 1 (PD in Meridionale)
  • ?NI gain 1 (Fratelli d’Italia in Meridionale)
  • EFDD gain 1 (M5S in Islands)
The Netherlands – 3 extra seats:
  • GUE gain 1 (SP),
  • ALDE gain 2 (D66 and 50plus)
Ireland – 2 extra seats:
if each of the two districts outside Dublin had had an extra seat, both additional MEPs would have been from
  • ALDE (Fianna Fail).
Poland – 1 extra seat:
  • EPP gain 1 (Civic Platform)
Romania – 1 extra seat:
  • PES gain 1 (USD)
Sweden – 1 extra seat:
  • PES gain 1 (Socialdemokraterna)
Austria – 1 extra seat:
  • EPP gain 1 (ÖVP)
Denmark – 1 extra seat:
  • ALDE gain 1 (Venstre)
Slovakia – 1 extra seat:
  • PES gain 1 (Smer)
[Due to a quirk of the Slovak electoral system, if there had been 14 seats rather than 13, the KDH would have won 3 seats instead of 2, and SDKÚ–DS would have won 1 rather than 2. However, both parties are members of the EPP, so it does not impact the mathematics in the European Parliament.]
Finland – 1 extra seat:
  • EPP gain 1 (Kokoomus)
Croatia – 1 extra seat:
  • PES gain 1 (Kukuriko/SDP)
Estonia – 1 extra seat:
  • ALDE gain 1 (KESK)
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