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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…
Boiko Borisov – former fire-fighter, bodyguard, karate black belt, and most recently Mayor of Sofia – won the Bulgarian general elections, with his centre right party (GERB) gaining a landslide victory of 40%, beating the ruling Socialists by a 22% margin.
Other than a change in government and new negotiators around the table of the Council of Ministers, the election outcome may have one more important consequence for Brussels. Current Consumer Protection Commissioner Meglena Kuneva, who was elected to the European Parliament a month ago, may be persuaded by Sofia to vacate her position in the Commission.
Highly respected in Brussels, Commissioner Kuneva has a good chance of retaining her post in the Commission if the new Borisov government thinks that her popularity will secure an important portfolio for Bulgaria. Yet voices in Sofia reproach her for not having supported more vehemently the Bulgarian cause in the EU, and Kuneva’s liberal party suffered a resounding defeat on Sunday.
Therefore alternatives exist, and The Lobby has heard that the most likely person to replace Kuneva is rumoured to be EPP Vice Chair Rumiana Jeleva, a founding member of GERB, who has been sitting in the European Parliament’s Regional Committee for the last two years.
While Jeleva may not possess sufficient standing within Brussels to obtain a key post in the new Commission, her expertise in regional policy may well give her a fighting chance of replacing departing Regional Commissioner, the Pole Danuta Hübner. After all, heading the department that takes the spending decisions on the EU’s cohesion and structural funds would be an attractive alternative for Bulgaria – currently one of the poorest countries in the EU.
One person’s democracy is another person’s dictatorship. Or so you would believe if you’ve been following the interminable debate surrounding the next Commission President. Will it be the incumbent José Manuel Barroso? Or will it be….er…. well, actually there are no other candidates at the time of writing.
Barroso is of course affiliated to the EPP group, who increased their lead over the Socialists and the rest so markedly following last month’s elections. No other party has put forward a candidate, so he’s a shoe-in, right?
Not according to the Socialists. Or the Liberals. Or the Greens. According to them, the Council has foisted Barroso on a reluctant Parliament and is trying to rush MEPs into approving Barroso this month. So much so that there is now increasing support for the vote in the Parliament to be put back until the Autumn – or until Barroso decides that he faces too much opposition in the Parliament and calls it quits.
Barroso has the support of the largest party in the European Parliament, the support of the Member States including “Socialist” leaders in Spain and the UK, and – so it would appear – the support of the European electorate, since it was his party that stormed the elections in June – and not the Socialists. Or the Liberals. Or the Greens.
Hence a Barroso appointment would appear to meet all the requirements of “democracy”, yet his political opponents in the Parliament are trying to portray this process as precisely undemocratic, because they don’t feel they have been properly consulted.
All of which leaves Barroso in limbo, the EPP holding their collective head in their hands, and the EU electorate wishing they could elect the Commission President to spare us this whole charade. Now that would be democracy in action….
Yesterday’s election of party leaders marked another important staging post in the build-up to next month’s first session of the new Parliament. Unfortunately, plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. Frenchman Joseph Daul of the EPP and the German Martin Schulz of the PES were both re-elected comfortably – in the case of Daul, only 3 members out of 239 voted against him.
Where are the new faces set to light up the next Parliamentary term?
Both Daul and Schulz are well-respected within the Parliament – Schulz has been mooted in the past as a potential German Commissioner – but it seems a shame that the two largest groups seem happy to retain the status quo and not look for a fresh start, particularly in the face of growing disillusionment – or boredom? – reflected in the record low turnout at the ballot boxes earlier this month. Schulz in particular can count himself lucky to still be leading a party group which foundered alarmingly in the EU elections.
Where is the backstabbing? Where is the political intrigue? The coups? The veiled threats? Politics should be more exciting than this…
The breaking news coming from the Parliament is that a deal has been brokered to make the so-called European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) the fourth largest group in the hemicycle.
David Cameron’s decision to pull the UK Tory MEPs out of the EPP was a controversial one and proved to be the catalyst for the formation of the new group. Doubts had been raised as to whether the new group could reach the allocated number of seats necessary, namely 25 MEPs from 7 different Member States. However the total comes in at 55 MEPs from 8 different countries, and, as expected, the bulk of the members are the 26 British Conservatives MEPs, 15 MEPs from the Polish Law and Justice Party and 9 MEPs from the Czech Civic Democratic Party.
How will this change the dynamics in the Parliament? Well, it remains likely that the ECR will side with the EPP on most major policy issues to form a powerful centre-right coalition. It will also mean that there is a more unified, anti-federalist voice in the Parliament.
Interesting to note that the announcement comes on the same day that the new Speaker of the UK House of Commons will be revealed. Much has been made of the rather dubious policies of some of their new group partners – are the Tories hoping that news of the ECR gets lost in press coverage about the new Speaker?