On 25 November the European Parliament paved the way to taking on a further 18 members. However, they will not be allowed to vote or speak in the plenary until EU governments agree and ratify a legal basis for their full mandate.
The new MEPs will be allowed to speak in committee meetings, but will not have the right to table amendments, draft reports, vote or speak in the plenary sessions. Their limited powers are a result of the legal complications following the transition from EU's old rulebook to the Lisbon Treaty, which will come into force on 1 December.
When the Lisbon Treaty was drafted, EU governments decided to expand the legislature from 736 to 751 members. Elections for the current European Parliament took place in June, however, when the Lisbon Treaty's future was still uncertain following its rejection by referendum in Ireland, so 736 members were elected, under the existing treaty at the time.
Some countries benefitting from the extra seats, such as Spain or Sweden, elected 'reserve MEPs' who will take their observer status as soon as national governments take a decision on the matter. But others, notably France and the United Kingdom, did not. This complicates the matter, as they are likely to send national parliamentarians as observers and hold early European elections for the extra seats, once the legal basis for their full powers is in place.
British MEP Andrew Duff, of the ALDE group, tried to push through an amendment that would have allowed the parliament decide on how to select the observers, not the member states; but the move failed to garner the necessary majority.
The length of the observer status will depend on the legal procedures among member states . A special intergovernmental conference comprising all EU leaders as well as the heads of the EU's institutions may be needed to amend the number of seats in the parliament.
The protocol will then have to be ratified by all member states, either as an annex to the Croatian accession treaty, or as a document in itself.
It is as yet unclear if the Swedish EU presidency will call for this extra summit by the end of this year or if it will rather be a matter for the next rotating presidency, chaired by Spain, and the new permanent president of the EU council, Herman Van Rompuy.
Before joining the EU in 2004 and 2007, new member states from eastern Europe and the Mediterranean also had observer MEPs sent by national parliaments.
In 2004, ten countries joined in May and held regular elections in June, together will the exisiting 15 member states. Bulgaria and Romania joined the EU in January 2007 and sent observers to the European Parliament until holding elections later that year.
26 November 2009