20 June 2019

In May’s European Parliament elections, 751 MEPs were elected across the EU, including in the UK. This came after Brexit was delayed until 31 October, following a decision by the European Council.

After the UK’s departure, the 73 MEPs elected in Great Britain and Northern Ireland will leave the Parliament, which will have an impact on the arrangements of the Parliament’s political groups.

The long-term impact of UK MEPs

In theory, UK MEPs could have a long-term impact on EU institutions, especially when it concerns the choice of the new leaders for the next European Commission and Council. These decisions will be made while the UK is still in the EU.

The European Parliament has to approve the Council’s choice for Commission President, and there is currently no obvious majority in the EP for any candidate.

If the vote on the President is close and relies on UK MEPs’ votes to get a specific candidate through, it would create a legitimacy problem for this President’s term when the UK leaves and the numbers change.

However, this is an unlikely scenario. If EU leaders eventually decide to follow the Spitzenkandidat system, where the winning candidate of the largest group (the EPP) becomes Commission President, and nominate Manfred Weber, it would be very difficult for him to be approved by the Parliament anyway, as the liberal Renew Europe group (formerly ALDE) and the S&D group refuse to back him.

The Council is more likely to go for a consensus candidate that will gather broad support across groups and parties, rather than allow a scenario where UK MEPs could have the casting vote.

The redistribution of UK MEPs’ seats after Brexit

27 of the UK’s seats will be redistributed to other member states which were ‘underrepresented’, while 46 will remain empty in case of potential future EU enlargement, bringing the total number of MEPs down to 705.

The following political groups will be affected by the UK’s departing MEPs:

  • Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy (EFDD) will lose 29 of their MEPs (all from the Brexit Party).
  • Renew Europe (the former Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe, or ALDE) will lose 17 of their MEPs (16 from the Liberal Democrats, 1 from the Alliance Party in Northern Ireland).
  • Greens will lose 11 MEPs (7 from the Green Party, 3 from the Scottish National Party, and 1 from Plaid Cymru).
  • Socialists and Democrats will lose 10 MEPs (all from the Labour Party).
  • European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) will lose 4 MEPs (all from the Conservative Party).
  • European United Left-Nordic Green Left (GUE/NGL) will lose 1 MEP (from Sinn Fein)
  • The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), which is not aligned with any group, will lose its seat.

How will the 27 seats be redistributed among other member states?

The 27 seats are to be redistributed only after the UK leaves, with some countries gaining extra MEPs in order to address issues of misrepresentation due to demographic changes.

  • France and Spain will get 5 extra MEPs each;
  • Italy and the Netherlands will get 3 MEPs each;
  • Ireland will get 2 MEPs;
  • Denmark, Estonia, Croatia, Austria, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Finland and Sweden will get 1 extra MEP each.

The parties receiving the extra seats after Brexit are still to be confirmed. However, Open Europe analysis of estimates suggest the following parties will win the reallocated seats:

  • France:
    • La Republique en Marche (RE) – 2 seats
    • Socialist Party (S&D) – 1 seat
    • Europe Ecology – The Greens (Greens/EFA) – 1 seat
    • Rassemblement National (ID) – 1 seat
  • Spain:
    • People’s Party (EPP) – 1 seat
    • Ciudadanos (RE) – 1 seat
    • PSOE (S&D) – 1 seat
    • Vox (ECR) – 1 seat
    • Junts per Catalunya (Greens/EFA) – 1 seat
  • Italy:
    • Brothers of Italy (ECR) – 1 seat
    • Forza Italia (EPP) – 1 seat
    • Lega (ID) – 1 seat
  • Netherlands:
    • People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (RE) – 1 seat
    • Forum for Democracy (ECR) – 1 seat
    • Party for Freedom (ID) – 1 seat
  • Ireland:
    • Fianna Fail (RE) – 1 seat
    • Fine Gael (EPP) – 1 seat
  • Denmark: Venstre (RE) – 1 seat
  • Estonia: Pro Patria (EPP) – 1 seat
  • Croatia: Social Democratic Party (S&D) – 1 seat
  • Austria: The Greens (Greens/EFA) – 1 seat
  • Poland: Law and Justice (ECR) – 1 seat
  • Romania: Social Democratic Party (S&D) – 1 seat
  • Slovakia: Christian Democratic Movement (EPP) – 1 seat
  • Finland: Green League (Greens/EFA) – 1 seat
  • Sweden: Green Party (Greens/EFA) – 1 seat

The following calculations are based on results published on the European Parliament’s website (updated on 20 June), in addition to recent updates about changes in the composition of existing political groups. The political groups can still change until the beginning of July.

Based on these numbers, the post-Brexit European Parliament would look like this:

The winners

  • The EPP, which has no UK party, will gain a few seats, but the group will still be far from the 221 they held from 2014 to 2019.
  • The new Identity and Democracy (ID) nationalist and populist bloc is due to become the fourth largest group, and will be the largest Eurosceptic group, ahead of the more ‘Euro-critical’ European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) group.
  • The right-wing populist Dutch Freedom Party will recover 1 seat, after losing all of its 4 MEPs from 2014.
  • Macron’s La Republique en Marche party (RE) will gain 2 seats, resulting in a tie in France with Marine Le Pen’s National Rally (ID) as both parties will have 23 seats.
  • The Spanish right-wing Vox will increase its presence and strengthen the ECR, which it announced it would join on 13 June.
  • Estonia’s Conservative Pro Patria (EPP) party will get its only seat.

The losers

  • The Socialists & Democrats will not recover enough seats to compensate Labour MEPs leaving.
  • The departure of the UK’s Liberal Democrats will mean a substantial loss for Renew Europe, while the Greens will also face net losses.
  • The Left (GUE/NGL) will lose 1 seat.
  • The EFDD is likely to collapse without the Brexit Party. Its other important member, Italy’s anti-establishment Five Star Movement, is likely to find itself alone in the EP. Forming a new group requires a minimum of 25 MEPs from MEPs from seven member states, and for now there is only one MEP from Croatia’s Human Shield party in the EFDD.

 

Overall, whether it is with UK MEPs or without, the European Parliament is more fragmented than it was in the last five years, and it will be difficult to reach compromises on crucial decisions.

After the UK leaves, the two major groups still do not have enough seats to form a combined majority in the EP (334 seats out of 705, or 47%), and will have to rely on another group’s support, likely to be Renew Europe.

Meanwhile, the influence of right-wing Eurosceptics is unlikely to change dramatically: the ID group would grow in numbers, but it will still not have enough power to block legislation on its own. Moreover, there remain too many disagreements between this group’s parties and the ECR, and/or the Five Star Movement, for the Eurosceptic bloc to be a united one.