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Floor 7 1/2

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.)

– Emil

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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…

– Ilja

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Verhofstadt eyes up his eurosceptic opposition

Verhofstadt eyes up his eurosceptic opposition

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…

– Felix

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Barroso at risk?

Barroso at risk?

As expected (see Elections re-shape party alliances), the Socialist group in the European Parliament has agreed to re-brand in a move to welcome the main Italian’s opposition party, the Partito Democratico (PD). In the past legislature, the Partido Democratico was split between the PES and the ALDE, putting the Italian Democrats in an uncomfortable position.

Renaming the “Party of European Socialists” as the “Alliance of Socialists and Democrats” (ASDE) was not an easy task due to the opposition of several socialist MEPs, scared of losing the socialist essence of the second largest group of the Parliament. However, the poor election result of the Socialists across Europe made the re-branding a less bitter pill to swallow and the Socialists were finally pleased to welcome their new fellow-members.

The first consequence of this move is numeric, and as such, political: the current 162 MEP strong socialist group will be propped up by another 21 members from Italy, which will also significantly shift the left-right balance of the parliament back towards the centre, thereby making centre left majorities more likely again. Second, the PES is opening-up to a wider spectrum of parties across Europe, possibly attracting further MEPs into their group. Finally, the move could increase the growing support for Mr Guy Verhofstadt to replace Barroso at the helm of the European Commission: one of the conditions for the Italian Democrats to join the new group was that they would oppose a new term for Barroso.

It is therefore no accident that Socialist leader Martin Schulz was quoted yesterday strongly opposing Barroso’s run for a new term. Today, the NUE/GUL group also suggested that it would rather support Guy Verhofstadt than Barroso. The Socialists, the Liberals, and the Greens have now announced their dissatisfaction with the Portuguese candidate.

The coming weeks will be exciting indeed…the scene is set; let the political wheeling and dealing begin!

– Ilja and Felix

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So, with the European Parliament elections rapidly approaching, the horse-trading between political parties from across the whole spectrum has intensified as factions look to the future and, more importantly, for new buddies to befriend in the next Parliament. Conflicting visions of Europe, party strategies to get more seats and personal rivalries for top jobs are already resulting in the dismantling and creation of European political parties.

The UK Tories announced some time ago that they would leave the EPP-ED after the elections to form their own euro-sceptic party.

Now it looks like the ALDE is facing problems on several fronts. First up, the next Commission President… a fringe of the party is not supportive of Barroso, favouring instead the Italian Mario Monti or the Belgian Guy Verhofstadt. Add to the equation that the Italian members of ALDE might join the Socialists because of a recent merger between the Italian socialist and centrist parties, and it appears that the Liberals could be a much-changed entity in the new Parliament.

Finally, rumor has it that the new name of the Party of European Socialists could be changed into the ‘Alliance of Socialists and Democrats’ to reflect the possible absorption of the Italian dissidents. When vying for seats in the EP, changing party names and alliances do not seem to matter so much: ‘a rose by any other name will smell as sweet’.

– Michele and Victoria

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