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The newly elected European Parliament President Martin Schulz announced in an interview that he is going to try to “put the European Parliament in a confrontation with the heads of government.”
The reason behind this is that, in Mr Schulz’s view, the European Council is becoming more and more powerful, while the European Parliament’s role either “goes unappreciated or [is] stolen by the Member States”.
Clearly, this assessment can only be confirmed by people working in the “Eurobubble”.
When going back home, people seldom realise that the European Parliament is in fact a key institution and no longer a talking shop. Worse, only 43% of electors actually go and vote on election day.
This confirms one of the many shortcomings of the Lisbon Treaty: instead of truly democratising the EU, it actually gave more powers to the European Council by making it an official EU institution, which can de facto act as a sort of directoire.
Of course, one could say that governments are under control of their Parliaments back home, but in times when an increasing number of competences are being transferred to the EU, one would expect that the Parliament – which only focuses on EU issues – gets a louder voice and is appreciated as such by the general public.
In this regard, Martin Schulz’s initiative seems very positive.
Yet, the Lobby cannot help thinking that domestic politics may be the cause. By weakening the Council, the Parliament is weakening its de facto leadership, namely Ms Merkel – something which the SPD, Mr Schulz’s home party, may try to exploit in the 2013 national elections.
It would be disappointing if this should be true, since this would show that even the European Parliament only sees itself as a means to fulfil domestic politics goals.
Yet, sometimes the ends do justify the means. Therefore, whatever its intentions, The Lobby hopes the European Parliament will experience some proper infighting, which at least will ensure the EU gets a little more democratic!
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…
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…