Expert View

3-month delay causes no problems for European elections

by Pavlos Eleftheriadis | 13.02.2019

Pavlos Eleftheriadis is a professor of public law at the University of Oxford and a barrister at Francis Taylor Building

If the UK delays Brexit, will it have to hold European Parliament elections scheduled for May 23-26? The answer is that the key deadline isn’t the elections themselves, but the first session of the new European Parliament on July 2. Provided the UK leaves the EU by then, there will be no need to hold elections.

There is a general obligation that the European Parliament is “representative”. Article 14(2) TEU states that: “The European Parliament shall be composed of representatives of the Union’s citizens.” It follows that UK citizens must be represented while the country is a member.

The treaties require that the term of office of members of parliament lasts for a full five years. Since the current European Parliament first sat on July 1 2014, the current MEPs will carry on representing the UK until June 30 2019.

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This is fully consistent with the special EU law covering elections to the European Parliament, the “Act concerning the election of the Representatives of the Assembly by direct universal suffrage” of 1976, as amended by Decisions of 1981 and 2002. This Act specifies at Article 5 that: “The five-year term for which members of the European Parliament are elected shall begin at the opening of the first session following each election” and at Article 10(4) that: “The powers of the European Parliament shall cease upon the opening of the first sitting of the new European Parliament.”

This means that the UK will continue being represented at the European Parliament until the full five-year term of the current members expires. If withdrawal from the EU can be postponed, there is no need to have any new members until the day before the first sitting of the European Parliament. There will only be an issue if the UK delays Brexit until after July 1 – or decides to change its mind and stay in the EU after all.

This is the first in a series of articles on the European Parliament elections. Another piece will consider what happens if Brexit is delayed after July 1.

Edited by Hugo Dixon