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One of The Lobby’s intrepid sources was caught in a parallel universe yesterday after discovering that the Parliament’s PHS building in Brussels has a 5th-and-a-half floor.
Not content with confounding visitors with a maze of confusing signposts and meandering corridors, the powers that be have found a home for a large swathe of the ALDE group in a Being John Malkovich-esque middle ground between the fifth and sixth floors.
Far be it from The Lobby to speculate on what this says about the group’s politics, nor can we confirm any sighting of a lost Harry Potter looking for platform 9 and three quarters (perhaps he was wearing his invisibility cloak.)
While the thermometer reads 37 degrees in Brussels, the political temperature in the European Parliament is set to rise with MEPs heading towards the end of the summer recess. While the rate of activity of the Parliament is still slow, The Lobby looks back to the allocation of top positions in the European Parliament and the subsequent changes within the largest national delegations.
At first glance, it may seem that France has lost influence, the Brits have managed to secure control of some important committees, and that Italy is the big winner. What strikes us most however is the dominance of the Germans.
To summarise: France has four chairs, but of these only the Budgets Committee could be said to be influential. Italians and Germans have five Chairs and the Brits three. Germans obtained the most influential posts, such as the Environment and the Industry Committees. The Brits will control heavyweight committees such as Economy and Monetary Affairs and the Internal Market. Italy obtained the prestigious post of Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee and the Agriculture Committee, which will be responsible for the reform of the Common Agriculture Policy when/if the Lisbon Treaty will be adopted.
For the first time there will be no French MEPs among the fourteen Vice-Presidents of the European Parliament, who are responsible for laying down the institution’s rules – will this have an impact on the disputed future of the Strasbourg Parliament? Among the 14 Vice-Presidents, there will be three Germans, two Brits, and two Italians.
This picture would not be complete without looking at the coordinators of the main political groups, who play a key role in shaping opinions as they coordinate the work of their political groups within the different Committees. Among the coordinators appointed so far by the EPP and ALDE (we await the other groups), German MEPs are dominant, while the French are still lagging behind. Since they divorced from the EPP, British MEPs are expected to have a high number of coordinators in the new Conservative group (ECR), but their actual influence will depend on whether the new group will be able to become a forceful player in the new Parliament.
Looking at the largest political group (EPP), France has one MEP coordinating the group in the Economic & Monetary Affairs Committee and one as Vice-Coordinator in the Industry Committee. Italians will coordinate minor committees such as Fisheries and Culture and will have a Vice-Coordinator in the Environment Committee. What is striking again is that German EPP MEPs grabbed the positions of coordinator in three key committees: Environment, Internal Market and Agriculture. The situation is more balanced in the ALDE group, in which Sweden has a coordinating role in the Industry committee, France the Economic and Monetary Affairs Committee, and the UK the Environment Committee.
During the past legislature Germany and the UK had 27 and 23 MEPs respectively acting as coordinators in the Parliament, whereas France had just eight. The puzzle is not sufficiently complete for the moment to make comparisons as we wait for the S&D to appoint its coordinators in September. In addition, the appointment of future Rapporteurs will tell us how much influence the national delegations really have.
For the moment though, it seems the Germans are the clear winners of the horse-trading for key posts and have already secured a 2.5 year Presidency of the Parliament in the form of S&D President Martin Schulz as of mid-2011. But where are the French? Assessing French influence by looking only at these figures would be simplistic, but the facts show that the French are currently under-represented in the Parliament. The same is actually true in the Commission, where they have fewer Director Generals than the Germans or British. Is it just a lack of interest in the institutions, or is it part of a long-term strategy that seems content to leave the parliamentary positions to the other countries and claim in return more influential positions in the Commission? Are the French holding out for the President of the EU or the High Representative for Foreign Affairs, should Lisbon fully be ratified? All open questions…
After the EPP, the newly-termed PASD (Socialists), and the Greens had elected their leaders last week, the Parliament’s third force, the Liberal ALDE group finally followed suit yesterday by nominating Guy Verhofstadt as their new leader. Since the support for his candidature was so overwhelming, Diana Wallis, the only other serious contender for the post, dropped out of the race before it even came to the vote.
It will be interesting to see in which direction the former Belgian Prime Minister steers the European Liberals in the coming months. No doubt his nomination as group leader will set off some heated confrontations between the currently-confident Eurosceptics and the markedly Euro-federalist Verhofstadt.
Within his own party, composed of diverse representatives from around 18 Member States, there could yet be some sensitivity towards Verhofstadt’s ambition to create a “United States of Europe”, a stance that had previously led to his defeat in the 2004 nomination race for President of the Commission.
In an ironic twist, Verhofstadt, who just a couple of weeks ago was one of the most likely contenders to challenge Mr Barroso, may now actually play a crucial role in re-nominating his former opponent for a second term. Verhofstadt will now make his support for Barroso subject to a number of concessions, one of which may be a liberal President of the European Parliament. Finally, Graham Watson’s dream may come true…