EU Parliament opens amid horse-trading over top seats

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A little more than a month after the elections, the European Parliament is preparing to re-start the EU’s legislative engine this week. The 736 newly-elected MEPs will meet on 14-16 July in Strasbourg for a constitutive session aimed at appointing the president and vice-presidents of the new assembly and distributing top committee chairs.

British Liberal MEP Graham Watson and Italian conservative MEP Mario Mauro pulled out of the race to become European Parliament president last week, giving Polish centre-right MEP Jerzy Buzek a clear run to become the EU assembly’s next head.

The session will open today (14 July) with the presidency vote, which will take place by secret ballot.

However, a so-called ‘technical agreement’ struck between the Parliament’s two biggest political groups, the centre-right European People’s Party and the Socialists – shatters any hope that far-left Swedish MEP Eva Britt-Svensson (EUL-NGL), Buzek’s only remaining opponent, had of winning the race.

Buzek also has the support of the Liberals (ALDE), the Greens and the new anti-federalist group spearheaded by the UK Tories, the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR).

Horse trading

During the three-day sitting in Strasbourg, political groups will continue their horse-trading over appointments to the Parliament’s top committees.

The distribution of committee chairs has for the most part already been decided, on the basis of negotiations held last week and a distribution key which gives groups proportional representation according to their size (the so-called ‘D’Hondt method’).

The centre-right EPP group is set to keep its nine chairs, the Socialists six and the Liberals (ALDE) three. The Green group and the ECR group will take one each.

On Thursday morning (16 July), many of the 20 committees will hold their inaugural meetings, electing their chairs and vice-chairs based on proposals made by the Conference of Group Chairmen, which will meet on Wednesday.

The appointment of committee chairs follows the D’Hondt system – named after the Belgian mathematician who designed the method – which allocates positions on the basis of political groups’ size (EURACTIV 09/07/09).

However, the precise allocation of seats may shift until the last minute, as political horse-trading continues between the main political groups.

In recent days, a number of names have emerged. Although the political groups have not confirmed any of the names of committee chairs that are circulating in Brussels, “we have not jumped to deny them, as they go in the right direction,” said EPP spokesman Robert Fitzhenry last Friday.

Subject to last-minute changes during behind-closed-doors negotiations, group sources indicated to EURACTIV that the chairs could be divided as follows:

Committee

 

Chairman/Chairwoman
AFET Foreign Affairs Mario MAURO (Italy; EPP)
DROI Human Rights Heidi HAUTALA (Finland; Greens)
SEDE Security and Defence EPP
DEVE Development Eva JOLY (France; Greens)
INTA International Trade S&D (Portugal)
BUDG Budget Alain LAMASSOURE (France; EPP)
CONT Budgetary Control Luigi de MAGISTRIS (Italy; ALDE)
ECON Economic and Monetary Affairs Sharon BOWLES (United Kingdom; ALDE)
EMPL Employment and Social Affairs Pervenche BERES (France; S&D)
ENVI Environment, Public Health and Food Safety Jo LEINEN (Germany; S&D)
ITRE Industry, Research and Energy Herbert REUL (Germany; EPP)
IMCO Internal Market and Consumer Protection Malcolm HARBOUR (United Kingdom; ECR)
TRAN Transport and Tourism Brian SIMPSON (United Kingdom; S&D)
REGI Regional Development Danuta HÜBNER (Poland; EPP)
AGRI Agriculture and Rural Development Paolo DE CASTRO (Italy; S&D)
CULT Culture and Education Doris PACK (Germany; EPP)
JURI Legal Affairs Klaus-Heiner LEHNE (Germany; EPP)
LIBE Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs Fernando LOPEZ AGUILAR (Spain; S&D)
AFCO Constitutional Affairs S&D or ALDE
FEMM Women’s Rights and Gender Equality GUE
PETI Petitions EFD
Other key posts    
EU-China delegation Graham WATSON (United Kingdom; ALDE)
EU-ACP delegation Louis MICHEL (Belgium; ALDE)

Other issues on the agenda

On Wednesday, the new MEPs will also debate the work of the Swedish EU Presidency with Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt, who will present his programme for Stockholm’s six months at the EU helm.

The new Parliament will likely also decide this week on when to hold a vote on the re-appointment of Commission President José Manuel Barroso for another five-year stint at the EU executive’s helm, after leaders formalised his nomination last week. But the EU assembly’s main political groups have already decided to postpone the official vote on his re-appointment until after the summer recess. 

Barroso will have to present his programme and make it public before a vote can take place, after the Social Democrats, Liberals and Greens had urged him to do so.

Commissioner hearings

Last week, group leaders also agreed to hold hearings in September for all the new commissioners who recently replaced those who left to take up new mandates, like Danuta Hübner and Louis Michel, who became MEPs, and Dalia Grybauskaite, who was elected president of Lithuania (EURACTIV 30/06/09).

The hearings will be a “light procedure”, a parliament official said on Friday, noting that the commissioners will go through a shorter round of questions and answers with MEPs than usual. 

From 4-7 June, 375 million citizens were called upon to vote for the 736 members who will represent them in the European Parliament until 2014.

The European elections, held simultaneously on 4-7 June in 27 countries for the first time in history, ended in a clear victory for the centre-right EPP-ED group and a defeat for the Party of European Socialists (PES).

The new centre-right EPP group is credited with between 265 members of the European Parliament, against 184 for the Socialists, who have rebranded themselves the Socialists and Democrats group (S&D).

In the outgoing 785-member European Parliament, the EPP had 284 MEPs to the Socialists' 215.

The liberal ALDE group won 84 seats, while the Greens and the new conservative group (ECR) have 55 seats each. The other two groups, the far-right Europe of Freedom and Democracy (EFD) and the far-left European United Left-Nordic Green Left (GUE/NGL), have 30 and 35 seats in the new EU assembly respectively (EURACTIV 01/07/09). 

  • 14 July 2009: Election of new European Parliament president.
  • 15 July 2009: Debate with Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt on his country's EU presidency.
  • 16 July 2009: Appointments to committee chairs; constituent meetings of committees to be held.

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