ECR at odds with other groups over last remaining Parliament committee chair

Beata Szydło [DOSSMANN/EP]

Europe’s conservative group (ECR) insisted on presenting former Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydło as its candidate for the chair of the European Parliament’s social affairs committee on Monday (15 July). But she was voted down again by her peers.

The last top job left in the Parliament has still up for grabs after an attempt yesterday to fill in it in Strasbourg, as political groups still consider the Polish Law and Justice (PiS) candidate unsuitable for the role.

Before the vote, some rumours, not confirmed by the group, suggested that Szydło would step down, leaving the chair of the committee to compatriot MEP Elżbieta Rafalska, who was Labour and Social Policy Minister for her country up until a month ago.

However, group coordinator Raffaele Fitto surprised other MEPs when he proposed again the same candidate that was rejected last week in Brussels.

Fitto asked his colleagues to respect both the democratic principle and the d’Hondt method for the appointment of high-level roles in the Parliament.

“We respect the ECR and other political groups, but for us, values are not negotiable,” said Romanian MEP Dragoș Pîslaru, Renew Europe’s coordinator for the social affairs committee (EMPL), after the vote.

Szydło reacted immediately saying she is one of the few people in the room for whom European values are important.

“It’s very sad, indeed, because the person who said that doesn’t know who I am,” she said, adding that when she was prime minister of Poland, she has always been bound by EU values.

Liberals made it clear that they would back any other ECR candidate different from Szydło and other groups hinted the same.

However, the other potential candidate, Rafalska, spoke in favour of her colleague: “We reject one of the best candidates today.”

“Our group should be able to decide who’s going to chair the committee,” she added.

On the sidelines of the meeting, an ECR source told EURACTIV that, at this stage, her candidacy is becoming “a matter of principle,” adding that now the Polish delegation of the group can get upset.

As a form of retaliation, PiS could decide to withdraw its support for Ursula von der Leyen, who tonight faces a vote on her European Commission presidency bid.

With 26 MEPs, PiS is the fourth-largest national delegation in the Parliament, after the German Christian-democrats (CDU), Italy’s right-wing Lega and UK Brexit Party.

Szydło’s rejection “hardly encourages us to support a cross-party consensus” on von der Leyen, ECR co-chairman Ryszard Legutko said last week.

Yesterday’s failure to elect the chair of the committee has also had an impact on Parliament’s work, complicating the entire institutional agenda.

The Conference of Committee chairs is not constituted until all the heads of the 20 standing committees and 2 sub-committees are elected.

A meeting of the Conference is needed to hear and formally appoint the two new EU Commissioners, Estonia’s Kadri Simson and Romania’s Ioan Pascu.

They are in line to replace for a few months former Commissioner Andrus Ansip and Corina Crețu, respectively, after they decided to take their seats as MEPs.

[Edited by Sam Morgan]

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