British influence will wane in new EU Parliament

  
A member of the public votes at a polling station in Bromley, South London. 22 May 2014. [European Parliament/Flickr]

The UK Independence Party’s victory, the loss of all but one Liberal Democrat MEP, the weakening of the Conservatives and the Labour Party's performance in local and European elections point to a waning British influence in Brussels.

Although UKIP came second in the previous European elections (2009), the other parties’ representatives held important positions in pivotal policy areas and played a significant role in shaping legislation. Britons elected 73 MEPs. 24 of them are from UKIP, 11 more than were elected in 2009.

With expectations of a possible grand coalition, which would freeze out UKIP, distrust of its politicans by traditional parties, and UKIP’s terrible record of participating in the parliamentary process, that is unlikely to translate into a real say on policy.

“We don’t go there to make the EU better, more powerful, and help it to pass more laws. We go there to find out what it’s up to, and let you know," UKIP boasts in its manifesto.

Pieter Cleppe, head of think tank Openeurope, said: "The vote shows that the people want reform but it's ironic that it has in a way weakened the reformist voice; those willing to work within the system to make it better.

"UKIP is basically a protest party. They use Europe to campaign at home and have no interest in passing laws or influencing legislation. One one side of the new Parliament you have the protest parties, on the other those who want to strengthen the EU. This has left reformists in a weakened position and the most reformist member country of the EU is Great Britain." 

Peter Wilding, Director of British Influence, which campaigns to keep Britain in the EU, added: "Looking at the numbers alone, British influence in the new Parliament will not be as strong as it was. British influence will have to be exerted in the European Council among national governments and they need to get a grip on the situation; the member states need to drive a policy agenda."

The different European parliamentary groups of like-minded national parties are allocated points based on their size. The European People's Party took the most seats in the elections, followed by the Socialists, then ALDE (the liberals), the Greens, the European Conservatives and Reformists Group and the Europe of Freedom and Democracy Group.

The bigger each country's delegation of MEPs within the group, the more points they are allocated. Those points are then spent on positions, such as chairs and vice-chairs of committtees. The more important the position, the more points are spent. 

Liberal Democrats

Sharon Bowles, a Liberal and member of the ALDE group, spent the last five years as Chairman of the Parliament’s prestigious Economic and Monetary Affairs Committee (ECON). During an unprecedented period of post-crisis legislation on financial services, Bowles wielded enough clout to be named the most influential Brit on EU policy (here) and in the top ten most influential European regulators. 

Bowles did not stand in the 2014 elections and the Lib Dems were decimated from 11 MEPs to a single seat, making a repeat of Bowles' reign by Catherine Bearder extremely unlikely.

Sir Graham Watson, an MEP since 1994 and a member of ALDE’s bureau as well as the Conference of Delegation Chairs and Committee on Foreign Affairs,  was one of the highest profile casualties. Andrew Duff, an MEP since 1999, also lost his seat.

Calls for Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg to resign have become increasingly strident since the dismal result. College of Europe graduate Clegg, the UK Deputy Prime Minister, is an avowed pro-European and former MEP. Should he step down the status of the Lib Dems in Europe will be diminished even further. 

Bearder, MEP for the South East of the UK said that many of the committees will be full of empty chairs because UKIP members will not turn up. "Those seats should be taken up by Brits who should be putting forward the British argument, the British case. Instead, important decisions will be being taken by other countries," she said.

"The real losers of these elections are the British public because they will not be taking part in the decision making process. If UKIP do turn up they will vote no on legislation, as they did on rules against human trafficking and Russian homophobia in the last part of this Parliament," she added.

The Green Party increased their number of MEPs by one to three, beating the Lib Dems into last place but, as smaller players in the European Greens, they are unlikely to have much sway.  

Conservatives

The Conservatives, part of the European Conservatives and Reformists Group (ECR), lost their Chairman Martin Callanan in the poll (here). They dropped six seats to 19. It was the first time the Tories have ever come third in a nationwide election.

The result might impact on the selection of the next Chairman of the ECR, who automatically gains a seat on the Conference of Presidents. The Conference is responsible for organising the Parliament’s business, planning, deciding the membership of committees and delegations and relation with the EU institutions, the national parliaments and non-EU countries.

While the Tories are bullish about one of their own succeeding Callanan, Polish members of the ECR also won 19 seats, making them on paper equal partners. They are likely to push for a Polish chairman, given they increased their support by seven seats from 2009 rather than shedding votes.

British Influence's Wilding said: "In the Parliament, clearly all eyes are on UKIP, will they be disciplined? Will they turn up to committees? Will the ECR take a leaf out of UKIP's book and take a more obstructionist course?"

The Polish Law and Justice Party are social conservatives, which may not sit well with the Tories' economic liberalism, he added. "The Conservatives are facing not an existential crisis but a vision crisis," he said. 

More positively for the Tories, Kay Swinburne retained her seat in Wales. Swinburne sat on the ECON Committee and was ranked the 30th most influential Brit on EU policy. Daniel Hannon, who led the Conservatives out of the EPP and is a high profile Eurosceptic, was also re-elected.

Wilding said, "The issue for the ECR is what becomes of the sotto voce negotiations with Alternative für Deutschland​ (AFD)."

Germany's anti euro party is a staunch opponent of German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Prime Minister David Cameron needs Merkel's support to get the reforms of the EU he has called for. But Cameron has no legal basis to tell the Conservatives to stop negotiating with the AFD.

The ECR needs the AFD to join them to take them to the seven member state representation required to qualify as a parliamentary group. Given the choice of extinction and the AFD, Hannon, who has repeatedly called for a pact between UKIP and the Tories in defiance of the party line, is likely to pick the AFD.

Ashley Fox, vice chair on the Constitutional Affairs Committee and Vicky Ford, member of the Committee on Industry, Research and Energy, were both re-elected and both served as substitutes on ECON. But long-serving Malcolm Harbour, first elected to Brussels in 1999 and the third most influential Brit in the 2012 list, retired.

"The Tories are in a weaker position after the elections," said Openeurope's Cleppe.

Labour

Labour won 20 seats, a considerable increase from their 2009 score of 13. The 2009 election was particularly traumatic for Labour, which was punished by voters following the financial crisis.

The Socialists and Democrats group (S&D) will be dominated by Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s Democratic Party (PD). They took 31 seats, making it the leading party in the group. The scope of Labour’s influence is likely to be shaped by their future direction. If Renzi's MEPs take a modernising, centre-left approach, as expected, it is possible that Labour could negotiate some important posts.

Much will depend on Germany's socialists (SPD), previously the largest group, who returned 27 MEPs and will still have an influential voice. 

British Influence's Wilding agreed Labour were in a good position but warned they would be temporarily "in the doghouse" for not backing German Socialist Martin Schulz as the lead candidate for European Commission president.

Richard Corbett, who lost his Yorkshire and Humber seat in the 2009 elections, was re-elected this time. He spent the last five years working in European Council President Herman Van Rompuy’s cabinet and would be seen as an ideal replacement for some of the departing old guard. His return was welcome, said Wilding.

Glenis Willmott, leader of the European Parliamentary Labour Party since 2009 and an MEP since 2006, will also prove influential as the new Socialist party takes shape.

Labour’s influence will be weakened by the departure of several well-respected Brussels old hands. Arlene McCarthy, a vice chair on the ECON Committee, did not stand in this year’s election. Peter Skinner, another ECON veteran, also stood down.

British political scientist Simon Hix said both the local and European elections were “disastrous” for Labour, especially as it is only a year before the national general elections. Labour is not expected to win, he said.

Normally the opposition party wins such polls by a landslide, he said. Instead more than half of people in the UK voted for parties supporting the in/out referendum.

He added that local and European elections results make it very difficult for Labour Party leader Ed Miliband to claim credibly that he is going to win the next elections.

“Bets for the general elections now are for a minority Conservative government.  The liberals have been wiped out, it will be very difficult to do a deal with Conservatives again. We will see a complete transformation of British politics.”

Prime Minister David Cameron’s recent use of the veto, as well as the talk of “Brexit” has left the UK isolated in the EU. The Lib Dems' Bearder said she was hopeful that a referendum would "lance the boil" and enable more attention to be brought onto the work being done in the Parliament.

Under a minority Conservative government with a weakend voice in the European Parliament,  it will be difficult for the UK to exert similar levels of influence over EU policymaking as it has done in the past.

Timeline: 
  • 2015: UK general election
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Comments

Mike Parr's picture

The founder of UKIP (Sked) gave an interesting interview with the Guardian.

http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2014/may/26/ukip-founder-alan-sked-p...

As for UKIP MEPs: quoting Sked: "If you elect a Ukip MEP, you're just going to elect another incompetent charlatan that you're going to turn into another millionaire. "

UKIP MEPs: racists & charlatans taking Euro & UK taxpayers money to do.... nothing. Hmmm, interesting protest vote.

Barry's picture

The elected mep's have no power even if every single map had been a lib den they would have had no say in the decision making process, because the parliament is the least powerful body in the eussr. All they do is wave through everything the commission demand. In fact only the group leaders really have a chance to speak.

Mike Parr's picture

The triologues which I have seen suggest otherwise - I guess you know what a triologue is Barry?

Otto's picture

It's sad to see how many Britons support the fascist UKIP party. Guys, what's wrong with you?

Mike Parr's picture

A short perusal of UK newspapers (with two exceptions) shows the following mixture:
The Sun - showbiz title-tattle and poisonous anti-EU rubbish
The Times: poisonous anti-EU
The daily Telegraph (aka Torygraph) right wing & anti-EU
The Daily Mail (otherwise known as the Daily Heil - it supported the Nazis prior to WWII ) - antiEU
The Daily Express - owned by a pornographer etc etc
Given the above it is not a great surprise that the elements of the UK populace voted for UKIP.

Barry's picture

Mike Parr everyone of the rags you mention was anti UKIP because they are all pro eussr, the smear campaign against UKIP by those rags no doubt increased UKIP's following because intelligent people can see through what they were saying.

Mike Parr's picture

Barry let me help you here: Sked founder of UKIP:

"He (Farage) wanted ex-National Front candidates to run and I said, 'I'm not sure about that,' and he (Farage) said, 'There's no need to worry about the nigger vote. The nig-nogs will never vote for us.'"

UKIP - neo-nazi lite - the printed toilet papers I mentioned (newspapers - hardly) whipped up anti-EU feeling and this is what they got - neo-nazi lite - tell me Barry - did you vote for this scum?

Jerry_UK's picture

Barry, as soon as anyone uses the term "EUSSR" they acknowledge they have lost the argument and are simply evoking human emotion. An USofE would actually be far more like the USofA that the old soviet state, ask anyone from the old GDR for example if you don't believe me (do you really think that those in the east of the EU would willingly jump from pan to fire - if you do then you are a very poor judge of human nature!

Barry's picture

UKIP is not a fascist party, it's sad to see that foreigners are mislead by the media propaganda, what's wrong with you people that you blindly follow the nonsense instead of finding out the truth.

Mike Parr's picture

Oh yes it is... not only fascist but (as far as it could be) congenitally hypocritical (well let''s be fair - they buy their vaseline wholesale)

Jerry_UK's picture

Barry, UKIP might or might not be a "fascist" party but they ARE xenophobic, just look at how their illustrious leader condemned a whole nation in that LBC interview (and he has done the same before, besides Romanians, talking in very similar ways about Bulgarians and even the Polish in the past), as someone in the UK I can tell you that there are many, many, British people I would not want to move in next door but were was the total condemnat5ion of us Brits from Mr Farage...

A Londoner's picture

@Otto
The philosophical divide is between those who favour negotiation between nation states and those who want to construct a political entity above those states. The former view is held most strongly in those countries which have experience of being enlightened nation states (based on the rule of law, acceptance of international law, parliamentary democracy, tolerance of minorities). UK, Sweden, Iceland, Norway, Denmark and the Netherlands. The strongest commitment to a European entity is found either in countries which barely hang together as nation states - Belgium and Italy or in countries with no prolonged history of being "enlightened nation states". They are more likely to view nation states with suspicion So ironically you are quite likely to find strong attachment to the EU by people whose grandparents may well have been fascists.

the Englishman's picture

The thing is people, not just from the UK but all over the EU, have been begging for change for years and NO ONE has listened. Not national government or the mob from Brussels. They haven't even paid the voters lip service. They have just been going full speed ahead towards their Federalist goal, the United States of Europe.
They don't seem to give a toss what anyone thinks if it dosen't fall in to line with what they want. And anyone who dares to challenge them is automatically branded a Rasist, Populist, Nationlist, Facist, Nazi, xenophobe or any other insult the Federalist can dream up.
What they in Government have failed to understand is that millions of voters are not any of the aformentioned. They are ordinary working people who just want to be heard. They don't want a second all powerful government in Brussels, they don't want to be part of a Federal Europe. This is the thing that the EU and their political elite just cannot understand.
As for the rise of facist parties in France and Far Right parties in the UK, not to mention all the rest Far right and far left from around the EU countries the blame can be laid squarly on the door step of Brussels simply because they refused to listen.

One other point, this report stated that the UK influence in the EU will be reduced. What I understand that to mean is that because the parties democratically and lawfuly elected by the UK voters don't fall in line with the Federilst they won't be given any power. How democratic is that!
When you read that a possible third EU President may come from Luxembourg a tiny country of 500,000 with only 6 MEPS One has to question the democracy when a country of 65,000,000 with 71 MEPs (Not to mention one of the few EU countries that keeps the EU going) will have 'Reduced Influence'

Mike Parr's picture

"begging for change for years" - & what "change" would that be?
"the mob from Brussels. They haven't even paid the voters lip service" & what sort of lip service should they pay them?
"ordinary working people who just want to be heard" - most ordinary working people barely understand how the EC functions - they are much more interested in East Enders or something similar. Get real.
"They don't want a second all powerful government in Brussels" erm - & the first?
"they don't want to be part of a Federal Europe" - do they even know what that means?
"UK influence in the EU will be reduced" - yup - rules are simple - well understood - even you could understand them. I'll keep this simple, the French Nazis aka FN don't want to work with UKIP, other racist parties don't want to work with UKIP, the Kippers are on their own. Which part of this did you not understand?

PS: I'm an Englishman - but I can string sentences and thought together - perhaps you are that most interesting of species an English village idiot - there are millions of 'em - they voted UKIP.

GeorgeMc's picture

"but I can string sentences and thought together "

Are you sure about that? There are many on these forums who would strongly disagree with that statement.

"perhaps you are that most interesting of species an English village idiot - there are millions of 'em - they voted UKIP."

Wonderful debating skills! Denigrate your chosen opponent by questioning their education and intelligence, throw in a bit of bullying and write off five million voters. Quite an achievement, even for you!

Mike Parr's picture

Cheap even by your cheap standards. "Many on these forms" oh yeah? who?

still, the UKIP success will drive your fellow Scots towards independence - enjoy.

GeorgeMc's picture

Lash out if it helps your frustration, it does not however change the truth in my post. Time to put your 'Rupert Bear' books away and join the big people where repetitive use of childish phrases does not cut it.

A Londoner's picture

@the Englishman
I think to combat euro-federalism we have to offer an alternative vision of Europe. That is of nation states co-operating together. At present nationalists are disorganised and the federalists organised and with access to a large amount of European tax-payers money . One thing we could do is stop people in the UK saying that they are "anti Europe" when they mean "anti EU".

It is a difficult task but one good sign is the emergence of AfD in Germany. Their manifesto is interesting.

evad666's picture

With trusted individuals like Blair and Ken Clarke it is absolutely no wonder the UKIP party is going from strength to strength. For those who do not understand that's irony.

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