Macron’s MEPs try to make a name for themselves

President of the French delegation Renaissance, Stéphane Séjourné, highlighted the political motivations behind the Green vote against von der Leyen, saying that "the German Greens are betting on quick elections in Germany and want to stand out, and that the French Greens also have political aims."

Internal discipline, “cordon sanitaire” against nationalist parties, assertiveness on environmental matters. So far, Macron’s deputies in the European Parliament have shown a conception of European politics that breaks from French tradition. EURACTIV France reports.

In Strasbourg, as in Paris, French MEPs who are members of Marcron’s ‘Renaissance’ list, have first of all demonstrated their unanimous support for their party’s line. There appears to be discipline among Macron’s ranks.

Their first feat: working for the election of the president of the European Parliament, which was far from certain a week ago.

French MEPs of the recently formed Renew Europe group were instructed to support the election of the European Commission president candidate Ursula von der Leyen, despite lingering doubts about her stance on climate policy, social issues and the rule of law.

Von der Leyen was elected on Tuesday evening (16 July), with 383 votes, a very narrow majority. She needed a minimum of 374 votes. Several members of the Greens, socialists, the far-right and the radical left refused to vote for her.

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On the theme “let us be pro-European”, the head of the French Renaissance delegation Stéphane Séjourné, had called on the Greens, who refused to vote for Ursula von der Leyen, to take into account the fact that she was now putting the environment among her priorities.

Since 2017, the French president only received distant support from the few centrist MEPs, as well as a few defectors from other groups. With 21 of his disciples now in the European Parliament, the Macronists have finally set foot in the door.

Blank cheque for von der Leyen without a coalition agreement

While some of the socialists, all the Greens and the radical left opposed the candidate because of her commitments on the environment and climate protection, the French centrists welcomed her proposal for a European climate bank, an idea they championed during the EU election campaign.

Besides calls to raise climate efforts when negotiating free trade agreements, they generally gave von der Leyen a blank cheque and did not have much trouble convincing their own group, Renew Europe.

Among the party’s other successes are the nominations for the European Parliament committee’s chairs. France has obtained four positions. Given the fragmentation between parties, and considering Marine Le Pen’s Rassemblement National has 22 MEPs, this appears to be quite a feat.

Two Renaissance MEPs will head Parliament committees, with Pascal Canfin heading the Environment and Health (ENVI) Committee and Nathalie Loiseau chairing the Defence (SEDE) subcommittee. Younous Omarjee of the leftist group GUE/NGL will be chairing the  regional committee (REGI) and Karima Delli from the Greens will chair the Transport (TRAN) Committee.

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These are crucial positions that are not in the forefront, but whose number shows that the Renew group played its cards right.

Vote of confidence and cordon sanitaire

While the Secretary of State for European Affairs, Amélie de Montchalin, regularly refers to an “équipe de France” in the European Parliament, the French Renaissance MEPs continue to have harsh words for their teammates, whether they are from the Greens or the far-right Rassemblement National.

“The problem is that Macron was keen to isolate the Greens, to prove that ecology can be achieved without them at the national level,” said the French MEP Raphaël Glucksmann of the Socialists and Democrats (S&D).

“The Renew Europe group blocked important positions for the Greens, took over the ENVI committee and is now trying to say that climate policy can be achieved without the Greens. For us, things are different: We need the Greens to push the environment issue further,” Glucksmann said.

Stéphane Séjourné, who considers the vote in favour of von der Leyen as one that will further confidence in France, described the Green vote against the candidate as “irresponsible”.

He also highlighted the political motivations behind the Green vote, saying that “the German Greens are betting on quick elections in Germany and want to stand out, and that the French Greens also have political aims.”

However, for the Greens, as well as for the Socialists opposing Ursula von der Leyen, the fundamental problem lies in the lack of agreement on the main issues.

Discussions for a coalition agreement are indeed blocked, the last block having been the work of the European People’s Party (EPP). Negotiations should certainly resume soon, with the election of the new Commission president paving the way for the next round.

Another particularity is that the French Renaissance arrived with firm ideas on the need for a so-called ‘cordon sanitaire’ to be put around certain European parties: the Polish PiS party, which is part of the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) group, the Fidesz party of the EPP, as well as all MEPs of the Identity and Democracy (ID) group, of which Le Pen’s Rassemblement National is a member.

The French centrists therefore refused to vote for all these members when allocating Parliament committee positions, as did the rest of the Renew  Europe group. This choice goes beyond Parliament’s practice of allocating posts according to the complex d’Hondt rule.

Now that the Renew Europe group has broken this tacit rule, this could cost them future posts as no other party would now apply the rule to members of the group.

MEPs shut out nationalists from key posts

MEPs from the nationalist Identity and Democracy (ID) group have been excluded from the last EU key posts left in parliamentary committees. Hungary’s Fidesz and Poland’s Law and Justice have also been partially subjected to the cordon sanitaire imposed by the pro-European majority.

[Edited by Frédéric Simon]

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