We must go back to where Europe started

by M. Emmanuel Macron, President of the French Republic

The decade which has just ended was a cruel one for Europe. We managed crises. But we’ve lost our way. This is why it falls to a new generation of leaders to take up Europe’s original idea, which is in essence political, a voluntary, realistic and ambitious association of states determined to ensure useful policies prevail on the movement of people and goods and particularly young people, on security, on monetary and fiscal matters and also on political and cultural ones.

The European countries – for which Europe can’t simply be reduced to a market, but forms an area where a certain idea of mankind’s value and the requirement for social justice are acknowledged as pre-eminent –, those states, those countries must once again seize a decisive project and organize themselves accordingly – even if this means examining unsparingly the way we currently operate.

We have a daily task to carry out, humbly – I’ve started it, thanks to the mandate from the people –, to have a Europe which affords greater protection, to undertake essential reforms and to uphold Europe’s ambition on the many subjects which are part of our everyday lives. But this won’t be enough. It’s up to France to take the initiative and I’d like to do this, in the coming months, through the close work I’ve already begun, with the Chancellor of Germany in particular.

By the end of the year, on these foundations, throughout Europe we’ll be launching democratic conferences to radically reform Europe precisely on the basis of this essential political project, on the basis of this essential ambition which unites mankind. Everyone is then free to subscribe to them or not.

But gone are the days of tinkering around the edges. We must go back to where Europe started, if I can put it like that, to its very beginning, and in doing so revive the desire for Europe, not letting demagogues or extremists monopolize people and ideas or making Europe a crisis-management body which daily tries to extend its domestic regulations because the neighbours don’t trust it any more.

We’ve got to rediscover the initial inspiration for the European commitment. The certainty found in the visionaries of past centuries and the founding fathers of Europe that the finest part of our histories and our cultures would express not through rivalry, still less war, but through a uniting of powers. Not through the hegemony of one party, but through a respectful balance which makes us all succeed.

The times we live in need this union. Because it’s this union alone that will enable us to take up the challenges of modernity. Because clearly it’s in this Europe that we share a common view of the world and mankind, a view steeped in the same beginnings and forged by the same trials of history.

Excerpts from the speech by M. Emmanuel Macron, President of the Republic, to the Parliament meeting in joint session.

Make-up of the European Parliament after Brexit

by Bob Cox

Britain’s departure from the European Union (EU) will alter the arithmetic of citizen representation in the European Parliament (EP). How?  The EU treaty (TEU) says the EP shall have up to 750 members, plus the President, elected within the different member states according to the principle of degressive proportionality “with a minimum threshold of six members per Member State. No Member State shall be allocated more than ninety-six seats.”  It then says that the European Council shall allocate EP seats in a decision “adopted by unanimity, on the initiative of the European Parliament and with its consent.” This is what the European Council decided in 2013 when the last member State, Croatia, joined. When Britain leaves, its 73 seats, the third largest block (after Germany and France, and on a par with Italy), almost one tenth of the Hemicycle, will be up for grabs. This is when the problems start.  The Parliament will propose a new apportionment of seats. This requires unanimous agreement by the European Council – and, depending on what the Council decides, final approval by the European Parliament. Every single member State will then have to legislate the election of its MEPs.  All this opens up three different scenarios as to the outcome:  

  1. redistribution of the UK’s current 73 seats. Simple, but in practice burdensome and potentially controversial. Past experience shows that this sort of distributive horse-trading gets very complex. Seeking unanimity among member States is a recipe for strife. There is worse to come.  Article 14.2 of the Treaty says that “no member States shall be allocated more than ninety-six seats”. In practical terms this means - either we modify this ceiling or we redistribute the former British seats to all member States other than Germany, thus further accentuating degressive proportionality within the EP.
  2. reduce the number of MEPs. We simply eliminate the 73 seats currently held by UK MEPs. At first sight, it appears enticing; all you need are minor changes to the existing legislation. But it doesn’t bear closer scrutiny. Reducing the number of MEPS would still entail a formal modification of the 2013 Decision. This then could escalate into a difficult distributive negotiation (as in scenario 1), since several member States may claim additional seats.  
  3. but, above all, these approaches would scupper an opportunity for both the EP - and the EU as a whole. Hence a third scenario: the European Constituency – a clean assignation of the former 73 “UK” seats to a single European constituency. European political families would contend this on a trans-national basis. No Treaty change is needed. Because Art. 10 of the TEU says that “Citizens are directly represented at Union level in the European Parliament”. In the same vein, Art. 14 says that “The European Parliament shall be composed by representatives of the Union’s citizens”. The implication is clear - seats in the EP are allotted by national quotas, but MEPs themselves represent the Union as a whole. Thus it is perfectly conceivable, and consistent with the Treaties, that MEPs’ election be disconnected from national constituencies. The EP has itself has mooted proposals in this sense. More recently, it proposed consolidating the Spitzenkandidaten method, stipulating in the electoral law that “The Council decides by unanimity on a joint constituency in which lists are headed by each political family's candidate for the post of President of the Commission."  

So far, this proposal has been seen as a tall order; among other things it would mean more seats in an already oversize Assembly. But today’s political conjuncture around Brexit now makes this a win-win, zero-costs, convincing operation of what looked an ambitious but hardly realistic idea with all-round benefits for the EU: it would reinforce European political parties and foster a closer-knit European political discourse; It would enrich the very notion of EU citizenship, ultimately strengthening the sense of “togetherness” of our nationals; and it would be a strong political response to Brexit. It would show that the European project is alive and kicking, and still backed up by institutional inventiveness and political will. This is probably the reason that the French President Macron and an Italian non-paper both have proposed it.