Socialists and Democrats push for ‘progressive’ coalition

Brexit has crept into the presidential race, which is due to be completed later this evening (17 January). [European Parliament]

Guy Verhofstadt’s decision to form an alliance with the European People’s Party (EPP) and back their candidate has triggered strong reactions on the left, while the Socialists and Democrats have promised an “alternative progressive solution”.

“We need this [progressive] alliance anyway, to be able to weigh in the future,” French S&D MEP Pervenche Berès said.

Tajani will most probably be the next president of the European Parliament but the ultimate number of votes and the alliances that are being negotiated will directly affect what comes next.

euractiv.com was informed that an exchange of letters took place between the S&D and the European United Left/ Nordic Green Left (GUE/NGL), in which the creation of an “anti-austerity platform” was thoroughly discussed.

According to the results of the first ballot, the EPP’s Antonio Tajani got 274 votes, followed by Gianni Pittella with 183 votes, the European Conservatives and Reformists’ (ECR) Helga Stevens (77), GUE/NGL’s Eleonora Forenza (50), the Green’s Jean Lambert (46), and far-right Laurentiu Rebega (43).

Talks begin for left-wing ‘grand coalition’ in EU Parliament

Socialist MEPs are exploring a left-wing alternative to their traditional alliance with the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP), which currently rules the European Parliament.

The second ballot results did not change the picture a great deal. Tajani received 287 votes (+13), Pittella 200 (+17), Stevens 66 (-11), Lambert 51 (-5), Rebega 45 (+2), and Forenza 42 (-8).

The third round of voting is due at 17:30 but it is not yet specified which political groups will withdraw their candidates. Taking into account that developments are ongoing, this article will be updated.

ALDE and S&D wage war

It appears that the S&D group had tried to build a coalition with the centre to no avail. Pittella said he had made former Belgian Prime Minister Verhofstadt other offers like the “maintenance of the status quo for the positions of the house”, the confirmation of his role as Brexit negotiator and giving ALDE chairmanship of a special inquiry committee on corruption.

In the end, though, it seems that it wasn’t enough for the liberals. “In election campaigns, people get excited. But it would be wise if Mr Pittella would stick to the facts,” ALDE spokesperson Jeroen Reijnen said.

“First of all, he never came up with a serious proposal. He knew very well that we did not only want to talk about the jobs. For us, political content is much more important,” he added.

French EPP ‘feels better’ about ALDE

ALDE sources told EURACTIV that Verhofstadt’s move to partner the EPP was opposed by the French and the Spanish delegations of his group.

For French EPP members, the coalition agreement signed with ALDE still needs to be worked on.

The MEPs, who have never been best of friends with group leader Manfred Weber, fear being isolated if German MEPs gain power after this election.

Some of them voiced their concerns about Weber’s proposal included in the coalition text, which plans to organise a special committee on terrorism.

“It can’t work, it’s useless, directors of anti-agencies will never speak openly to the European Parliament,” an MEP told EURACTIV.

The French are frustrated to have lost the opportunity to get the chairmanship of the “president’s conference”, a powerful institution of the European Parliament.

However, it is likely that they will get vice-president positions.

“We very much support Tajani […] his experience is aligned with the task we have for the next 2.5 years; the EU is playing with its future,” French EPP spokesperson Franck Proust said. But French MEPs welcome the idea of a right coalition, which according to them, could work better than the previous one.

“I’m more comfortable with the ECR and ALDE than the socialists,” Proust said.

Brexit enters the debate

EURACTIV also learned that one of ECR’s conditions to join the EPP/ALDE alliance would be for Verhofstadt to lose his leadership role on Brexit.

But still, the ultimate stance of the ECR cannot be predicted yet and officials claim that the party’s vote should not be taken for granted.

At a meeting of the Socialist group today, the idea of taking the responsibility of the Brexit negotiations out of Verhofstadt’s hands was also discussed. Sources told EURACTIV that the S&D group does not trust the liberal politician anymore and, therefore, they do not want him to keep his Brexit negotiator post.

In the text signed by the EPP and ALDE, it is stated that both groups will act to ensure the full involvement of the European Parliament in the Brexit negotiations “so that the interests of the European citizens are fully taken on board”.

“The European Parliament resolution will clearly indicate that the presence of the Parliament (besides the Council) in the EU negotiations delegation is a pre-condition for the consent procedure,” the document reads.

Greens are angry

Several MEPs from centre-left and leftist parties confirmed that they would go for Pittella but only in the final round, which will be based on simple majority.

The ultimate stance of the ECR group will play a key role in the next rounds, considering that the pro-EU text signed by the EPP and ALDE will not please a number of its MEPs.

The Greens have always been closer to the ALDE but it seems that the latest developments have drawn some dividing lines between the parties and the Greens are now viewing a “progressive” alliance with the socialists in a positive light.

According to sources, the Greens have asked the S&D to back a challenge against the CETA agreement before the European Court of Justice.

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An unconditional surrender

European Green Party Co-Chair Reinhard Bütikofer told EURACTIV that it was remarkable how ALDE’s leader found it possible to sign two “completely contradictory strategic agreements.”

“One with the anti-European populists from Beppe Grillo, the other with the EPP, the most status quo oriented European political family, within less than one month,” he said.

Referring to the common document signed between the ALDE and EPP, he said he was “really suspicious whether any of the words on the paper can really be trusted”.

“What EPP and ALDE are offering to other pro-European political families is, in one sentence, to follow and support EPP-ALDE leadership […] that is not an offer, it rather sounds like an invitation to sign an unconditional surrender,” the Green MEP noted, adding that what EPP and ALDE have not made public is what kind of deal they struck on dividing important positions between them.

“So, in the end, the EPP-ALDE agreement looks just like another old school machination, when we would really need a fresh start to pull together the best forces of Europe in order to defend and develop the European project against the Putin-Trump axis that wants to destroy the EU,” Bütikofer concluded.

Socialists: A spectacular somersault

The S&D group also issued an aggressive statement, saying that Verhofstadt has given further proof of his political incoherence, performing a “spectacular somersault”.

S&D Vice-President Tanja Fajon noted that after having tried the tragicomic move of getting the populist 5 Star movement on board to increase his personal chances of victory, now the leader of the Liberals seems to have hammered out a deal with “Berlusconi’s man” in Brussels.

“In the last few days, we offered Verhofstadt a clear pro-European deal, we received no response to this and what is even more surprising is that he apparently did not even inform his Group about this opportunity […] This is the second time in a week that Verhofstadt has forgotten to inform his own members of important information, showing a complete lack of respect for his ALDE Group colleagues,” she said.

“We still believe political coherence is a value to be preserved and respected. We still believe Orbán’s approach to migration is a disgrace, we still believe Berlusconi’s attitude to women is shameful, we still believe in gender equality and LGBTI rights, we still believe EU should be the global leader on climate change, we still believe in the fight against tax avoidance and tax evasion, we still believe in the protection of whistleblowers and in the urgent need for more growth […] this is a historic mistake and we will work for an alternative solution,” she concluded.

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