Halfway into its term, the Parliament prepares to vote on a new president, vice-presidents and committee chairs in a reshuffle that sees the far-right bolstered after Romania and Bulgaria’s EU accession.
Josep Borrell Fontelles, a Spanish Socialist MEP, will step down on 15 January from the Parliament’s top seat in a mid-term reshuffle that will see all major roles redistributed within the only elected EU institution.
German Conservative Hans Gert Pöttering, who has been the chairman of the EPP-ED Group since 1999, is set to replace Borrell as part of a deal between the Parliament’s two largest groups, the EPP-ED and the PES (Socialists).
Of the three candidates standing in against Poettering, Green group President Monica Frassoni (Italy) is tipped to win the most votes.
The two others are Francis Wurtz (GUE/NGL, far left) and Jens-Peter Bonde MEP (Independence and Democracy, Eurosceptic).
Although there is little doubt over the outcome of the vote, the German may however not get the support he would hope for from the Socialists and Conservatives.
But, since the two groups bring together almost two thirds of Parliament’s members and that a significant number of Liberal MEPS (ALDE group) are likely to support Pöttering, it is hard to imagine that he will not succeed Josep Borrell at the helm of the Parliament.
French Conservative Joseph Daul, who currently chairs the agriculture committee, was picked as the new chairman of the EPP-ED and successor to Pöttering.
The changes will also affect the chairs of committees. Daul will have to be replaced as chairman of the agriculture Ccommittee, a post in which Regional Development Committee Chairman Gerardo Galeote (EPP-ED, Spain) has expressed interest. Galeote’s most likely successor would be Jan Olbrycht (EPP-ED, Poland).
Speculation over what changes can be expected will follow on 18 January 2007, once groups have adjusted to the repercussions of the changes at the beginning of the week.
Controversy, however, is expected from the far-right, which has seen its ranks swell with the addition of new members from Bulgaria and Romania, allowing for a new group to be created (Parliament rules states that 20 MEPs from six countries are needed to form a new group and claim speaking time and financial support from the House as well as a say in the Conference of Presidents, which sets the agenda for the Parliament’s plenary).
The group, called Identity, Traditions, Sovereignty (ITS), was announced on 12 January after five members joined from the Greater Romania Party, allowing it to be allotted speaking time and around €1 million in Parliament funding.
The group, which will be chaired by French MEP Bruno Gollnisch, will bring together 20 extreme-right MEPS from seven countries. Its members will include seven MEPs from the French Front National, including the party’s founder Jean-Marie Le Pen and his daughter Marine, five MEPs from the Greater Romania party, three from the Belgian-Flemish Vlaams Belang, two Italian MEPs from the neo-Fascist parties Lista Mussolini and Fiamma Tricolore, one from Austria’s Freedom Party (the former Party of Jörg Haider), notorious Bulgarian MEP Dimitar Stoyanov, and Independent British MEP Ashley Mote.
In addition, the existing far-right group (Union for Europe of Nations, UEN), which brings together extreme-right politicians from five countries plus four MEPs from Ireland’s centrist Fianna Fáil, has grown with the addition of six Polish MEPs from three different parties and four Italians from the Northern League party.
The step made the UEN the Parliament’s fourth group in terms of numbers, ahead of the Greens/EFA (42 MEPs) and the GUE/NGL (40 MEPs). As a result, the GUE/NGL could lose either a vice president post (currently held by German MEP Sylvia-Yvonne Kaufmann) or a committee chair (Italian MEP Luisa Morgantini, who chairs the development committee, being the GUE/NGL’s only committee president.