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The significants of 751 – Ukraine & the EU

October 25, 2015

With the local elections tomorrow, and the repercussions results will have regarding an early Verkhonva Rada election, today with a voluntary purdah in place until polls close, a very distant, perhaps never to be obtained issue is the subject of today’s entry.

Having been recently asked what the major long-term obstacles to any Ukrainian membership of the EU are, and there are the commonly advocated reasons – a feckless political class (which despite two Maidans, one of which saw a president flee) still fails spectacularly to meet the aspirations of its constituency even at the level of the lowest common denominator, a “limited entry” economy monopolised by the oligarchy that gorge themselves on government subsidies, and fail to pay their debts to the State in the full knowledge that those they owe will either be recapitalised and/or the debts written off, a selective delivery of the rule of law, a wholly under-performing civil service and grotesquely corrupted institutions of State (to identify the very tip of the iceberg), there is also one unspoken long-term obstacle to Ukrainian entry.

Even if, taking a flight into what may appear to be (may ultimately what may prove to be) fantasy whereby Ukraine reforms, fully and successfully implements the Association Agreement and DCFTA as its ratified obligations demand, applies its right under Article 49 of The Treaty of the European Union to acceed and subsequently commences the Acquis Communautaire procedures etc – there remains a not so easily surmountable issue – that of power and influence (both perceived and real).

That issue lies within the European Parliament, and it is specifically identifiable.  It’s number is 751.

EU-Parliament

The European Parliament is comprised of 751 people.  750 MEPs and the president.

The maximum number of MEPs any nation can have is 96.  The minimum number any nation can have is 6.

Why?  Because the Lisbon Treaty says so.  It was wisely decided that a cap needed to be placed upon the number of MEPs.  The European Parliament could not simply expand with regard to the number of MEPs every time a new nation joined.

Thus, with a finite number being 751, every time a new nation joins, other Member States have to surrender MEP seats for them to fill.  The greater the population of a nation, the greater the number of MEP seats it is entitled to.

Let us imagine that Ukraine is to join.  Its current population would make it the 6th largest nation within the Union, behind Germany, France, the UK (should it remain within the EU – and if not, it raises the question of which nations gain MEP slots and how many), Italy and Spain.

Almost every nation, less those with the minimum 6 MEPs, would have to surrender MEP seats to accommodate Ukrainian MEPs.  With a population of about 45 million, Ukraine would be expected to garner about 55 MEP seats (about 7% of the MEP total).  Some nations would probably have to surrender more MEP seats than others when the woolly principle of degressive proportionality is applied.

So what?

There would be a profound regional power shift within the European Parliament – especially so if the evermore obvious strategic triangle between Poland, Romania and Ukraine develops and becomes consolidated over time.

Where currently France, Italy and Spain (Club Med) sit within the top five nations for MEPs, with Poland and Romania at 6th and 7th in number, a Ukrainian accession would see Ukraine come in at 6th, reducing the number of French, Italian and Spanish MEPs, but with an inferred regional (and if and when any accession came, possible tangibly strategic) ties with Poland and Romania.

The MEP reallocation would probably see (dependent upon how the woolly principle of degressive proportionality actually manifested itself after manipulation and negotiation)  a shift from “Club Med”, to “former Communist nations” as the dominant MEP number – and thus a perceived (and possibly very real) power shift within the European Parliament from Centre-Med, to Centre-East.

Does anybody really think that Italy, Spain, and in particular France, will make it an easy ride through the acquis communautaire toward accession when that prospect looms large?  Even if all criteria are met prima facie, it is an expensive event when a nation joins that has to be budgeted for – and EU budgets run on 7 year cycles and subject to unholy squabbling.

Of course this may all be entirely irrelevant.

It will take Ukraine a decade to fully implement the DCFTA even with a competent, unified and determined political class – which is entirely absent.  Perhaps then another 5 years to complete the acquis communautaire.  Then there are budgetary issues regarding Ukrainian accession.

Regardless of any Club Med objections and obstruction which will surely come and slow the process down, the EU in 20 years time will not look like it does today.  Ukraine may decide joining is not what it wants and that association is enough.

That said, 20 or 30 years from now, if the EU still exists and has not lost all credibility as a values based regional and/or global actor, with shrinking demographics, it may be courting Ukraine simply to include the demographics and economics in the block’s consolidated weight.

Returning to the issue of 751 – How often, in any discussions regarding Ukrainian accession (or not) to the EU, is the very real significants (and repercussions) of  the EP 751 addressed in the discourse?  About as often as a Ukrainian oligarch going to jail is the answer.

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