Thursday, October 04, 2007

Musical (euro) chairs

As I remember it, players in the game circle a line of chairs while the music plays, and everyone goes for a seat when the music stops. Each time the music starts up again, a chair is removed until there is only one left. The winner is the occupier of the solitary chair.

A variation of this game, it seems, has been playing in the EU parliament, with its constitutional affairs committee planning to reduce the number of seats from the current level of 785 to a more manageable 750 – all of which means that some MEPs are going to lose out on a lucrative career.

In all, 17 member states are going to lose out, if the plan is approved by the Lisbon summit on October 18-19, as part of the constitutional "reform" treaty negotiating package.

Germany loses three seat, down from 99 to 96, France will have 74 seats, a loss of four, while Britain's "representation" will fall from 78 to 73 – one of the biggest losers (how unusual), although coming in behind Italy, its allotment shrinking from 78 to 72. Poland, like Germany, loses three seats, ending with 51, while five other countries also lose MEPs: Bulgaria, Cyprus, Estonia, Latvia and Luxembourg. Spain maintains parity with 54 seats and four - Austria, Malta, Slovenia and Sweden - would see their parliamentary numbers increase.

A revealing insight as to the mindset behind this "deal" comes from co-rapporteur Adrian Severin, a Romanian socialist MEP. He recognised that the decision on carving out a smaller parliament was "difficult". But, he said, "our common interest is much more important than the possible electoral or political costs which we might face in our country" - the "common interest" thus over-riding and national interest

Of the "national interest", there is a further sting in the tail. The constitutional affairs committee is also proposing that a proportion of MEPs should by selected through transnational elections or lists, rather than the current system of elections in their own nations, building a core of MEPs belonging to "European" political parties, detached from any national party base.

This has been the objective ever since the parliament first met in Strasbourg in 1958 - when they sat in party rather than national groupings – and it is a measure of the persistence of the "colleagues" that, 50 years later, they are still pursuing the same dream, and are that much closer to achieving it.

Strictly national parties like UKIP will, of course, fare badly with this sort of arrangement, and plans to allocate funding to transnational parties will also weaken their grip. Soon enough, we will have Euro-MPs with a vengeance beholden in fact as well as in principle to the European "dream" for their positions.

When it comes to "musical chairs", therefore, it will be the nation states – as always – which are left standing.


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