As horsetrading continued in Brussels over key positions in the new European Parliament, the main talking point was the centre-left’s loss of the important economic and monetary affairs committee chair to the Liberals. Meanwhile, Graham Watson bowed out of the race to become European Parliament president.
British MEP Watson, a Parliament heavyweight and until recently the Liberal ALDE group leader, withdrew yesterday (8 July) from the race for the assembly top job and has not accepted an important committee chair as compensation.
“He wanted to be president or nothing,” a party source told EURACTIV, explaining that Watson was interested only in the presidency of the assembly and not committees.
Watson was the first to declare himself a candidate for European Parliament president and campaigned transparently, putting forward ideas to introduce European lists for the next EU elections, as well as for increased transparency and better EU communication.
However, he wrongly assumed that his group would become the ‘kingmaker’ in the new European Parliament. Watson had presumed that an “ideological coalition” between the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) and the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP) could have formed the majority in the new parliament.
To a great extent, this did not materialise because the British Tories split from the EPP and formed a new anti-federalist group, the European Conservative and Reform group (ECR, EURACTIV 23/06/09).
Watson’s successor as ALDE leader, former Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt, took a strong position against a coalition, which would include the ‘anti-federalist’ Tories (EURACTIV 02/07/09).
In fact, Verhofstadt’s ideas for a ‘pro-European’ coalition prevailed, as group leaders decided that Poland’s Jerzy Buzek (EPP) should be appointed president until 2012, and Martin Schulz, leader of the centre-left Socialists and Democrats group (SD), for the second two-and-a-half years of the seventh legislature, in a now-traditional centre-right/centre-left power-sharing deal.
Sources told EURACTIV that in exchange for removing his candidacy, Watson gained leverage to help ALDE win the important chair of the economic and monetary affairs committee, as well as the chair of a temporary special committee to deal with the economic crisis, an idea launched by Watson himself.
Although it was assumed that the post was reserved for Watson, the British MEP refused to take it, as he had repeatedly said that he would only be a candidate for the presidency of the assembly. The post was instead given to German liberal Wolf Klinz, a member up till now of the economic and monetary committee.
ALDE sources told EURACTIV that British Liberal MEP Sharon Bowles would chair the economic and monetary affairs committee, arguably the Parliament’s most powerful body.
New Italian Liberal MEP Luigi de Magistris is expected to chair the budgetary control committee.
Overall committee picture remains the same
Elsewhere, the overall distribution of committee chairs retains a similar balance. Subject to last-minute changes during behind-closed-doors negotiations, group sources indicated to EURACTIV that the chairs will be divided as follows:
The EPP will keep its nine chairs, and is expecting to retain the budgets, industry, research and energy, foreign affairs, regional development and legal affairs committees, as well as the women’s rights and security and defence sub-committees.
Notably, the foreign affairs committee is expected to be chaired by Mario Mauro, the Italian MEP who also put his name forward as an EPP candidate for the Parliament presidency but lost to Jerzy Buzek. Other high-profile awardees include French MEP Alain Lamassoure (budget) and former Polish Commissioner Danuta Hübner, who will chair the regional development committee.
The EPP has taken over the international trade (previously GUE/NGL) and culture and education (previously centre-left) committee chairs.
The SD lost the powerful economic and monetary committee chair, which they reportedly ceded to ALDE in exchange for a guaranteed share of the Parliament presidency for their group leader, German MEP Martin Schulz.
The Socialists will maintain their current allocation of six chairs, keeping constitutional affairs and employment and social affairs. They will likely take environment, public health and food safety (previously EPP), transport and tourism (previously ALDE), agriculture and rural development (previously EPP) and civil liberties, justice and home affairs (previously ALDE).
The European Greens will take over the chair of the development committee from the PES, with high-profile first-time French MEP Eva Joly expected to be presiding. The Greens also retained the sub-committee for human rights, with Finnish MEP Heidi Hautala the hot favourite to be named chair.
The new Conservative ECR group will chair the internal market and consumer protection committee (previously PES), with Tory MEP Malcolm Harbour expected to be named as chair.
Finally, the Eurosceptic Europe of Freedom Democracy (EFD) was given the chair of the petitions committee, previously under the stewardship of the UEN.
Negotiations over European Parliament committee chairs are coming to a conclusion ahead of the new house’s first plenary session in Strasbourg next week.
Parliamentary committee chairs are coveted by MEPs as one of the most high-profile and influential positions available in the 736-member legislature.
Taking into account the European election results, committee chairs are divided among the European Parliament groups using the d'Hondt method of allocating seats in party-list proportional representation political systems.
Traditionally, negotiations to determine which MEP from which group gets which chair have taken place behind closed doors and result in a complex interplay of hierarchies to determine the final balance: criteria include large vs. small countries, MEP stature and profile, and gender balance.
The final list of committee chairs will be officially announced at the first session of the new European Parliament on 14-16 July.