Socialists split over name change, Barroso

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The Socialists in the European Parliament have come under attack from their French members, who disagree with the group’s strategic direction ahead of a July plenary that could see José Manuel Barroso’s re-appointment at the European Commission delayed. EURACTIV France reports.

French socialists have questioned the group’s name change and its ability to share the Parliament’s chair with the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP) ahead of the new assembly’s opening plenary session on 14-16 July.

The Socialist group recently decided to incorporate 21 members from the Italian Democratic Party and changed its name to the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in Europe (PASDE) as a result (EURACTIV 25/06/09).

But French members believe a decision should not be taken too hastily. “Even if we have to integrate the Italians, I don’t believe an alliance is the right solution,” Stéphane Le Foll, the group’s new vice-president, told EURACTIV France (euractiv.fr 30/06/09).

The French are also fighting calls to drop the emblematic rose from the group’s logo, saying national delegations have not yet been consulted.

A seven-member working group has been set up to solve these issues and is expected to hand over its conclusions in the autumn. Le Foll, who will sit on the working group, said he will use the position to air the concerns of his national delegation. “We are not here to surrender completely on a name disappearance,” he said.

The French are not alone in questioning the group’s name change. The British delegation in particular has aired concerns that the PASDE could be confused with the rival Liberal Democrats in the UK.

Another point of disagreement relates to the chairmanship of the newly-elected assembly. Under a long-established ‘technical agreement’, the Socialists hold the Parliament’s presidency for two-and-a-half years before leaving the chair to the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP).

But the French believe this agreement no longer stands after socialists suffered a heavy defeat in the June European elections. “Political logic would normally have it that the EPP, which is the majority group, assumes the results of the elections and holds the Parliament’s presidency for five years,” Le Foll said.

Barroso’s re-appointment in the balance

Behind negotiations for the Parliament’s chair lies the thornier issue of whether to back the re-appointment of José Manuel Barroso for a second term as president of the European Commission.

Martin Schulz, the German Socialist MEP who was recently re-elected party leader in the European Parliament, said he would consider sharing the presidency of the assembly if that gave him leverage over the next Commission’s political agenda. In return for co-chairing the Parliament, Schulz therefore appears to be ready to secure his group’s backing for a second Barroso term.

“I have to ask myself whether I can implement a better social-democratic policy by imposing conditions on Mr Barroso,” he told a press conference last week. “Whether we would vote for him is an open question,” he admitted.

The socialists’ endorsement for Barroso could come later this year, after the second Irish referendum on the Lisbon Treaty scheduled for October. In a statement issued on 1 July, Schulz said the socialists wanted clarity on the treaties before taking a decision on the new Commission President.

But the French seem more inclined to firmly place the socialists in the opposition camp and vote down the former Portuguese prime minister, even if this means losing the Parliament’s co-presidency in the process.

“Beyond the technical agreement, the real issue is that we have no alternative candidate to Mr Barroso,” Le Foll explains. In a recent interview with EURACTIV France, Martine Aubry, the leader of the French Socialist Party, said it was not the Parliament’s role to come up with an alternative candidate. “If Barroso doesn’t get through, which has little chance of happening, it is up to the European Council [of heads of state and government] to make a new proposal,” she said.

José Manuel Barroso won unanimous backing from EU heads of state and government at the 18-19 June summit for a second five-year mandate at the head of the European Commission (EURACTIV 19/06/09). 

He now needs to convince the European Parliament in a vote expected in mid-July.

However, the agreement of EU heads of state and government does not appear to be supported by MEPs. It emerged that while all centre-left prime ministers have agreed to back Barroso, MEPs from the Socialist group seem poised to vote against him (EURACTIV 19/06/09). 

The Green group is vehemently opposed to another Barroso term (EURACTIV 17/06/09). As for the Liberals, they appear split, with several failing to heed their leader Graham Watson's decision to back Barroso in exchange for the post of European Parliament president. 

  • 9 July: Conference of Presidents of the European Parliament votes whether a vote on Barroso could take place on 15 July.
  • 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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