EU assembly backs new seat alllocation, defies Italy

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BRUSSELS, Oct 11 (Reuters) The European Parliament approved a new division of seats today despite protests from Italy, which has threatened to block the rearrangement at an EU summit next week due to approve a new treaty for the bloc.

The redistribution to better reflect the size of populations in the 27-nation European Union is meant to accompany the approval of the reform treaty, which raises the number of lawmakers to 750 from 736 envisaged by the previous treaty.

EU leaders need unanimity to adopt the change when they meet in Lisbon on Oct. 18-19.

Italy, which is unhappy with parliament's proposal because it would lose out in relative terms, wants the summit to approve the treaty without altering the number of parliamentary seats.

''It might be a good idea to look at numbers of MEPs after ratification of the treaty,'' Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi said on Wednesday after talks with European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso.

But the assembly went ahead and adopted its proposal by 378 votes to 154 today with 109 abstentions.

The new treaty, meant to replace the EU constitution rejected by Dutch and French voters in 2005, would overhaul the bloc's creaking institutions to cope with recent enlargement into central and eastern Europe.

Prodi said if EU leaders failed to endorse parliament's proposal by unanimity, the number and distribution of seats would remain as envisaged by the 2000 Nice Treaty.

But it is unclear whether other governments would be happy with this. Leading parliamentarians have said changing the proposed redistribution would be ''opening Pandora's box''.

Under parliament's proposal, Italy would keep its 72 seats, while Spain would gain four seats for a total of 54. France would see its seat numbers rise by 2 to 74. Austria and Sweden would also get two extra seats each.

Alain Lamassoure, French centre-right lawmaker who helped draft parliament's proposal, has argued Spain deserves extra seats because its population grew by some 4.5 million to 43.7 million since 2000 when the Nice Treaty was agreed.

Italian critics have said Spain's population increase mainly reflects normalising the status of illegal immigrants.


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