European Parliament groups elect their leaders

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The two largest political groups in the European Parliament re-elected their leaders yesterday (23 June), marking the first step in the struggle to obtain leading positions in the EU assembly’s key committees and foreign delegations.

Joseph Daul was re-elected chairman of the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP), the largest political group in the European Parliament, by an overwhelming majority on Tuesday. 

225 of 228 the group’s members present for the ballot voted in favour of the Frenchman. The EPP group has 264 members following the June European elections, down from 277 in the previous legislature. 

Almost simultaneously, Socialist leader Martin Schulz (PES, Germany) was re-elected chairman of the Parliament’s second biggest political group, by 163 votes to 144. 

After suffering a heavy defeat in the June election, the Socialist group has decided to enlarge by incorporating the Italian Democratic Party, changing its name to the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in Europe (PASDE) at the same time. With 21 Italian members from the Democratic Party, PASDE now has 183 MEPs. 

The Greens also re-elected their leadership, with Daniel Cohn-Bendit (elected in France) and Rebecca Harms (Germany) co-chairing the group. Harms replaces Monica Frassoni as co-chair after the Italian failed to be re-elected in June. 

statement from the Greens lists the vice-presidents who were appointed: Jill Evans (Wales), Reinhard Bütikofer (Germany), Marije Cornelissen (Netherlands), Eva Lichtenberger (Austria), Raül Romeva (Spain), Claude Turmes (Luxembourg) and Emilie Turunen (Denmark). The Greens/EFA group has 53 MEPs.

The European United Left/Nordic Green Left (GUE/NGL) unanimously elected German MEP Lothar Bisky (Die Linke) as president of the group, replacing French MEP Francis Wurtz, who has led the grouping for the last two terms of office. The elected vice-presidents are: Eva-Britt Svensson (Sweden), Ilda Figueiredo (Portugal), Kartika Liotard (Netherlands), Takis HatziGeorgiou (Cyprus) and Miloslav Ransdorf (Czech Republic). 

Committee chairs in the balance

According to the number of MEPs elected and the size of their country, political groups also distribute the positions of deputy leaders who are also responsible for policy portfolios, such as the budget or foreign affairs. The MEPs, some of whom arrived in Brussels in their new capacity for the first time yesterday, also told their groups which parliamentary committees or foreign delegations they would like to sit in. 

The more experienced MEPs and the leaders of national delegations in each group began discrete consultations with their group leaders yesterday over key committee and foreign delegation chairs.

Fourteen positions as vice-presidents of the European Parliament are also to be distributed. Although these attributions are mainly symbolic, vice-presidents are often seen chairing plenary meetings and can wield significant influence in the EU assembly.

No agreement over Parliament president

For the time being, there is no agreement over the next president of the European Parliament, who is expected to be nominated on 14 July during the assembly’s opening session in Strasbourg, EURACTIV was told. 

First, the EPP has not yet decided whether it will push for Italy’s Mario Mauro or Poland’s Jerzy Buzek to take Parliament’s top chair (EURACTIV 26/03/09). In the centre-left camp, Socialist leader Martin Schulz is the candidate for the PASDE group and could be elected should the EPP and PASDE decide to share the two-and-a half year term in the top seat, as they did in the previous Parliament.

Graham Watson, who until now has been leader of the liberal ALDE group, was the first to put forward his candidacy (EURACTIV 08/01/09), proposing an “ideological alliance” with the EPP over the five-year term. However, his group has only 80 MEPs left following the June ballot (down from 103), and is not big enough to provide the EPP with a sufficiently comfortable majority. 

Consultations are also ongoing between group leaders over the election of José Manuel Barroso for a second term at the European Commission. The Portuguese received backing from EU leaders at a summit last week, but he must now be confirmed by a majority vote in Parliament (EURACTIV 19/06/09).

Towards a ‘grand coalition’ to back Barroso?

The Czech and incoming Swedish Presidencies of the EU have been asked to lead negotiations with political groups in Parliament in order to see whether a majority of MEPs are ready to support Barroso. 

But the political groups’ decisions are linked to the nomination of the European Parliament president, sources told EURACTIV. 

Party sources inside the centre-left regretted that Schulz continued to oppose Barroso, and warned that he risked throwing the Socialists into opposition instead of backing the Portuguese to build a “grand coalition” on the German model. 

In the last European Parliament, there were seven political groups. Following the 4-7 June European elections, some changes have already taken place, such as the establishment of an additional group on an anti-federalist platform, spearheaded by the British Conservatives (EURACTIV 23/06/09). 

MEPs have many reasons for joining a group. One is to gain a platform, as speaking time in the European Parliament is divided according to group size. Group membership determines to a large degree the committees and delegations in which members will sit, as well as the identity of 'rapporteurs' steering legislation through the House. 

Political groups are thus at the heart of the Parliament's political life. At present though, their attention is focused on attributing leading positions within the assembly as a necessary pre-requisite of fulfilling their political agendas. This not only requires agreement with other groups, but also balancing interests within groups. 

  • Until 14 July: Czech and Swedish EU Presidencies conduct consultations with European Parliament groups over support for Barroso.
  • 14 July: The European Parliament meets for its first session in Stasbourg and elects its president.
  • 15 July: Possible vote in support of the candidacy of José Manuel Barroso for a second term as European Commission president.

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