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What does it mean for Ireland's European elections if the UK is compelled to hold its own?

Ireland will be holding its European elections on 24 May.

Image: AP/PA Images

A ‘FLEXTENSION’ OF up to a year has been proposed by European Council President Donald Tusk as a solution to avoid constant Brussels summits to discuss Brexit, and to give the UK time to figure out how to get a majority for something in the House of Commons.

Tusk is to recommend that the EU grants the UK an extension of up to a year, and that the extension would be cut short if the House of Commons ratifies the Withdrawal Agreement before next April. 

Although this seems like a solution to both the UK and EU’s problems – there’s still the tricky issue of the European elections, which will be held across Europe between 23 and 26 May. 

If the UK decides to remain in the EU for up to a year in order to find a majority in the House of Commons, it could skew things considerably.

Here’s how that could happen (bear with us, because the various scenarios make this a little complicated).

After the UK’s departure from the EU was announced, a decision was made to fill 27 of the UK’s 73 MEP places, and keep 46 vacant. This meant that Ireland got an additional two MEPs, bringing the total to 13.

An additional seat is going to the Dublin constituency, bringing it to a four-seater; Ireland South will be a five-seater; while the Midlands North-West constituency will remain a four-seater.

The Irish government had announced at the end of last year that there would be 13 Irish MEPs in the next European Parliament.

When TheJournal.ie asked again this week if this was still the case, given that the UK might not leave before the European elections, a spokesperson for the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government said: “There will be 13 MEPs elected”.

But depending on what the UK decides, there’s still a problem. It’s been raised as a concern before that Ireland might have to hold two separate votes – one accounting for 13 MEPs (if the UK doesn’t take up seats in the European Parliament), and another accounting for 11 MEP seats (if the UK doesn’t leave the EU and takes these seats).

This is because of the proportional representation system upon which MEPs are elected, and the way a quota, which is the minimum number of votes necessary to guarantee the election of a candidate, is calculated.

The quota for European elections is calculated by dividing the total number of valid papers by the number of seats to be filled plus one and adding one to the result. As Citizens’ Information explains:

For example, if there are 1,000 valid ballot papers and there are 4 seats in the constituency, the quota is 1000 ÷ (4 +1) = 200 + 1 = 201. The quota is 201.

As it stands now, the Irish government has insisted that there will be 13 MEPs, and is planning for as much. Similar to their policy for preparations for a hard border in Ireland in the event of a no-deal, it seems that it’s easier to deal with the probably and come to the worst case scenario if it happens.

But the Irish government have also said that its two new MEP seats won’t be taken up until the UK leaves – which could take up to a year – which would mean Ireland has elected 13 MEPs, but only 11 have taken up their seats until the UK leaves the EU.

But if in that year’s extension, a second referendum is held and the UK decides to remain in the EU, it could call into question the validity of that vote.

The Department of Housing Planning and Local Government has already amended the European Parliament Elections (Amendment) Bill 2019 to the following:

Amendments will be brought forward by the Minister which will propose that, in the event that the UK has not left the EU by the start of the parliamentary term, the last candidate elected in the South constituency and the last candidate elected in the Dublin constituency will not take up their seats in the European Parliament until the UK has left.

A government spokesperson said that whether the two elected candidates are entitled to a salary and expenses while their seats are in limbo is a matter “for the European Commission to clarify and decide on”.

In Ireland, the elections will be held on 24 May.

UK elections

Meanwhile, in the UK, Monday 15 April is the final date by which all regions can notify that they are taking part in the European elections. 

The deadline for delivery of nomination papers and lists of candidates of registered parties for European elections is no later than 25 April.

The last session of the current European Parliament is 18 April; the new European Parliament term starts on 1 July. The European parliament term lasts five years.

The European Union had expressed concerns about the UK remaining in the EU beyond the 22 May without taking part in the European elections, as it feared that legal challenges could be brought against the EU by British citizens who wished to exercise their vote in the European elections.

Belgium EU Brexit European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, talks to EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier. Source: Francisco Seco

Irish Commissioner Phil Hogan, calling Brexit “the most amateurish plan ever, saying there was no direction and no end game from the UK”, said that an extension would be difficult for Ireland.

“If the UK remain in the EU past the 23 May there will have to be European elections in the UK, and that will mean the two Irish seats will be put on hold.”

You would have 11 seats instead of 13… but if it goes past 23 May and the UK fight the elections it’s going to cause a logistical nightmare but we’re going to have to find an arrangement.

In Brussels ahead of the European Council summit in March, European Parliament First Vice President Mairéad McGuinness told reporters that the “European Parliament elections would be very different than they are today”.

I don’t think there would be the same getting away with saying something off the top of your head, which I think happened during the referendum campaign.

She said that there is a lot of attention to the pro-Brexit MEPs in the European Parliament, while there’s little attention for pro-Remain MEPs, who she says struggle to get the attention of the British media.

McGuinness also acknowledged that there could be a lot more pro-Brexit MEPs in the European Parliament if they take part in elections, such as Nigel Farage.

“Nigel Farage uses the Parliament here as his YouTube studio,” saying that he often comes into the studio to make a speech, and then leaves immediately afterwards, without taking part in the debates. 

Mr Farage has said to me that there’s a 50/50 chance that they’ll be back. To which I replied I want the UK to stay but I really don’t want you back.

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