Despite its victory at the European elections, the centre-right will find it harder to pass proposals in the new EU assembly, as its leadership has been eroded to the benefit of smaller parties.
The European People’s Party (EPP) will have to seek alliances with other parties to its left in order to win support for the re-appointment of José Manuel Barroso, the current president of the European Commission.
EU leaders are expected to agree to nominate the former Portuguese prime minister for a second five-year term at the head of the EU executive during an EU summit on 18-19 June.
But the Parliament’s increased fragmentation following the elections means that he may face a rebellion from MEPs opposed to his re-appointment.
The British Conservatives and the somewhat Eurosceptic Czech ODS party recently decided to split from the EPP-ED group, potentially weakening its leadership in the new assembly and increasing the Parliament’s unpredictability.
The Greens, who were the only group among the ‘big four’ to gain seats in the new assembly, have already opposed Barroso’s reappointment and launched a campaign against him, dubbed ‘Stop Barroso’.
Daniel Cohn-Bendit, the party’s leader in France, has called for a broad alliance to oust the former Portuguese prime minister.
His calls could prove tempting for incoming MEPs, who will be keen to assert their authority when they are asked vote to approve or reject the proposed new president of the European Commission during their first plenary sitting in July.
“The European Parliament needs to fight for its popularity and legitimacy,” said Mario Telo, president of the European Studies Institute at the Université Libre de Bruxelles (ULB). “MEPs should anticipate the Lisbon Treaty and play a key role in the selection of the European Commission president.”
However, it may prove just as difficult for the Parliament to find a majority against the current Commission president, as the Liberals and Socialist are divided on the issue.
“I don’t expect any major difficulties in decision-making,” said EU Economic and Monetary Affairs Commissioner Joaquin Almunia. “The composition of this Parliament will not be significantly different from the previous one.”
During the first plenary session of the seventh legislature on 14-16 July, the Parliament has the right to approve or reject the nomination by a majority of the votes cast.
Despite support of socialist leaders in the UK, Spain and Portugal, some Socialist MEPs could decide to vote against Barroso’s reappointment as the vote is made by secret ballot. With 159 MEPs, the Socialists remain the second-largest political force in the EU assembly.
Liberals as kingmakers?
Amid growing uncertainty about future majorities in Parliament, the Liberals now see themselves as kingmakers in the new assembly. With 81 MEPs elected, the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) remain the third-largest political force in Parliament.
“I predict no less than 85 MEPs at Parliament’s centre, which will make ALDE the kingmaker of any new majority,” said its leader, Graham Watson.
For their part, the French Liberals have signalled they will not vote for Barroso’s re-appointment, their leader François Bayrou said on a talkshow before the elections (EURACTIV 5/06/09).