08/03/2013 07:45 GMT | Updated 08/05/2013 06:12 BST

Size Does Matter: Cutting Back the Number of MEPs


There is a limit to how tall people can get. At 8 ft 11 in Robert Wadlow is the tallest person in recorded history. One day there might be someone who is an inch taller, but we will never find someone twice as tall, as that would be physically impossible.

The limits of the European Parliament are currently being debated by MEPs. After Croatia joins the EU in July, the number of seats will go up to 766, a number that will have to be brought down to 751 for the 2014 parliamentary elections, in line with Lisbon Treaty rules.

Most people agree there should be a limit on the number of seats in the Parliament. There are currently 754 MEPs. That number could simply be increased each time a new country joins the EU. However, this is not desirable as it would make the Parliament less efficient and more costly to run.

So, when the Lisbon Treaty was being negotiated, it was decided to put a cap on the total number of MEPs to prevent the EP from expanding each time the EU welcomes a new member state. The treaty sets the maximum number of MEPs at 750 plus the president.

After the 2014 elections the number of MEPs will have to be readjusted in line with the treaty, but where should the knife fall? Under existing rules, seats are divvied up according to degressive proportionality, meaning the more citizens a member state has the more seats it gets, but also the more citizens each MEP represents. So MEPs from smaller countries represent fewer people than their colleagues from larger states.

The Parliament's constitutional affairs committee has tried to come up with a solution that is both fair and equitable. Germany will lose three MEPs under Lisbon Treaty rules that set the maximum number of seats at 96. The 2009 election took place before the treaty came into force so Germany retained its 99 MEPs. However, apart from Germany no country would have to give up more than one seat. The UK would keep all of its seats, but Ireland would lose one MEP.

MEPs will vote on the proposal during March's plenary session, after which it will be submitted to the European Council, which must decide unanimously.

Photo copyright European Parliament