A dispute over who should be appointed as the next President of the EU Assembly as well as disagreement about austerity-driven policies have put the two biggest political parties in the European Parliament on a collision course that endangers the ‘grand coalition’, EURACTIV has learned.
In the event that the Socialists and Democrats (S&D) break the deal with the European People’s Party (EPP) over the presidency of the European Parliament, “some kind of consequences could happen” on the future of the grand coalition, EPP Head of Communication, Pedro López de Pablo, told EURACTIV.
S&D chief Gianni Pittella retorted instantly, telling EURACTIV that “there has never been and never will be a grand coalition with EPP” but just a “legislative cooperation” in the Parliament.
Socialists, he said, will never accept that the presidencies of the three major EU institutions – the European Commission, Parliament and the Council – are all in the hands of the EPP.
In July 2014, the EPP and S&D made an agreement to share the presidency of the European Parliament over the five-year term. But, according to reports, socialist Martin Schulz wants to renew his mandate for another two-and-a-half years, triggering strong reactions within the EPP.
The S&D is currently the second largest political group in the European Parliament, behind the centre-right EPP. The two groups have formed a “grand coalition” at the beginning of the legislature, allowing them to share key political posts in the Assembly and the European Commission, the EU’s executive arm.
EPP: Deals must be respected
However, the agreement seems to be interpreted differently by both parties, putting into question the future viability of the grand coalition.
The EPP seems to be decisive for the implementation of the deal and it is ready to push a candidature for the presidency of the Parliament.
Pedro López de Pablo, the EPP’s Head of Press and Communications, stressed that his political group will propose a candidate for the presidency of the European Parliament in December.
“Normally, we should do it during the plenary session in December. But the calendar still needs to be discussed between the heads of the national delegations,” López told EURACTIV, adding that there are several people willing to run for the post.
“I know there are a lot of rumours in the press but I don’t know what the final names will be or if there will be new ones. It’s still too early,” he explained.
Last year (4 November), EURACTIV reported that several names had been floated, including the Italian MEP Antonio Tajani and Mairead McGuinness from Ireland. Alain Lamassoure, who heads France’s centre-right delegation in Parliament, has also been mentioned as a potential candidate as well as French MEP Françoise Grossetête.
Sources explained that geographical and gender balance would be taken into consideration, with many suggesting it would be good to have a woman leading the Parliament.
Asked about the S&D intention to push for a renewal of a socialist presidency in the Parliament, the right-wing official noted that the socialists were aware of the situation from the very beginning and that deals need to be respected.
“They decided to choose the first part of the term and Mr Schulz was in the negotiations, so he perfectly remembers what happened and what the conditions were,” López stressed, adding that the socialists have a very good representation.
“They have Ms Mogherini, they wanted that post and they also got another vice-president of the European Commission. These things were all known and negotiated in the beginning of the term. I don’t know why now some socialists say we don’t have any representation […] I am sorry but this is not true,” he underlined.
Asked whether a deal break could have an impact on the grand coalition, the EPP official was clear.
“Of course, because normally the deals are to be respected. If the socialists decide not to respect the deal that they have signed, I guess some kind of consequences could happen, but it’s too early to say that. For the moment, there is absolutely no drama,” he tempered.
Pittella: Socialists need to be represented
However, the S&D group does not share such a view.
Asked by EURACTIV whether the S&D will actually stick to its commitment to share the Parliament’s presidency, socialist leader Gianni Pittella said the question had to be framed more widely.
“This agreement also provided that the President of the EU Council would be a socialist but instead we had EPP’s Donald Tusk. The agreement, therefore, cannot be implemented only partly,” he said.
The Italian socialist noted that his group “strongly” supported Martin Schulz for two reasons.
“First, we appreciate very much the way he [Martin Schulz] ruled the Presidency of the Parliament by increasing its prestige and the credibility of the institution and secondly, we cannot accept that the three top presidencies are all in the hands of the EPP.”
Referring to reports suggesting that Schulz is interested in running for the chancellorship of Germany, Pittella replied that it was up to him to decide but the problem remained.
“It’s not a personal issue of Martin Schulz. It’s a matter of political balances between political forces.”
Legislative cooperation at risk
EURACTIV reported last week that discussions were ongoing within the S&D group regarding the future viability of the grand coalition with the EPP.
Some socialist lawmakers believe that turning left is the only solution for the S&D to survive while others are reluctant to take such a leap.
Pittella said there has never been a grand coalition in the European Parliament but only a “legislative cooperation” with specific red lines.
“Limiting our relationship with the EPP only to negotiations for the posts in the EU institutions is too simplistic,” he noted, adding that after Brexit a new political phase should begin to “win back our citizens and show that it is not true that the EU only cares about big fish […] This means a new trade policy more attentive to people’ s worries, a clear fight against Tax fraud and a rupture with austerity”.
But after the recent statements from Manfred Weber and from his “austerity hawk friend” Wolfgang Schäuble, “the legislative cooperation is at risk”, Pittella warned.
He continued, saying that the EPP group leader should really reflect on his political stance and together with “his friend” Schäuble remained the only ones who have not realised yet the economic and social disasters brought about by austerity across Europe.
“They remain blindly stuck to the austerity orthodoxy. Even President Juncker is far from putting forward this line,” Pittella added.
“I am in favor of this cooperation but be careful: we will never sell off our principles and red lines, if we cooperate with these forces on one dossier and we are not able to find a balance and mutually accepted compromise we will keep our hands free. For example we will not accept that the EPP will keep postponing the banking Union and prevent the Parliament from taking a position on this. This must be crystal clear,” he said.
Referring to the discussion within the party about closer cooperation with the leftist part of the political spectrum, he said that he was seeing with favour the discussion with all leftist forces.
“But we know very well that in this Parliament there is no margin for a new alternative focused only on the left wing,” he stated, adding that the current balance of numbers makes it practically impossible.
“It’s useful to speak with the Greens and GUE-NGL, I am not demonising my colleagues who speak with them. But, by numbers it’s impossible to form a majority with these forces.”
“We need to discuss with them and cooperate. But the backbone of the legislative cooperation rely on the forces, which support the Juncker Commission,” he pointed out, emphasising that his objective is to bring EPP close to a most progressive possible approach and this is the only way to run the legislative cooperation.
“I hope we won’t be forced to break it. Such a statement as that one from Weber and Schäuble obviously put in the danger our cooperation. Should we step down from the cooperation, we will have an institutional deadlock and this will be entirely a EPP’s responsibility,” he concluded.