Empty British seats keep beckoning

What else does the European Parliament care about Brexit? More than you think. Whenever the European Parliament is in Strasbourg, where the votes are held, the vacuum left by the British can be seen. Then 46 empty seats stare out at the audience in steel blue. If you didn’t know better, you’d think they were the seats of lazy politicians, an unshowy pity.

That is not true. After the 2019 election, Britain sat in those seats, the UK is not yet out of the EU, but almost. When the British leave the EU permanently in 2020, they will leave those places too. A portion is split among existing members, but three-quarters of the 73 British seats remain vacant.

Every week they are dusted clean by the cleaners, the technical service constantly checks that the voting buttons still work, otherwise they just sit there and wait, no one knows why. Maybe for new people from new countries, for example Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia. A plan to host pan-European candidates is in circulation.


Or should it be separated? European affairs ministers discussed this this week. Some countries, such as the Netherlands, are entitled to more seats than actually exist. Their population grew.

The Netherlands could gain two more seats in 2024 than the current 24, as could Spain. There shall be one additional seat for the total assembly of other countries. The question was whether those extra seats would come from the vacant British bloc or from existing representatives.

At least the Germans thought so. The German delegation has a maximum of 96 seats and will keep it even if new distribution is made. On the other hand, France and Belgium are looking at empty seats. You can give everyone something extra, they think. France, for example, wants four additional seats.


The Germans have strategy with them. Big Parliaments are not fashionable. A few months ago, the German Bundestag shrank by 106 people. Not immediately, but after the next election, in 2025. But interestingly: French President Macron is also in favor of a smaller parliament. When he started his job, he wanted to reduce the number of members of the Assemblée Nationale by a third because he could not explain the number of 577 members of Parliament to the people. All that tax money, after all, could be spent elsewhere.

In European politics this argument is obviously less applicable. After the British exit in 2020, France also gained five additional seats in the European Parliament. The French delegation now has 79 members, and adding four more would represent a 10 percent growth over the period. It’s all tax money. The domestic macron is obviously different from the European one.

EU correspondent Romana Abels writes a column every week from Brussels. Read his previous columns here.

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