French influence remains modest in EU Parliament


Despite increasing its representation in key committee posts, France remains far behind Germany and the United Kingdom in terms of influence in the new European Parliament. EURACTIV France reports.

France claimed four committee presidencies and 11 vice-presidencies against three and six respectively in the previous legislature, it emerged after constitutive meetings of Parliament committees earlier this month (EURACTIV 17/07/09).

This sharing of posts is described as “decent” in a study by Athenora Consulting, a Brussels-based EU affairs consultancy.

But French influence in the Parliament will remain modest in the coming legislature, according to analysts surveyed by EURACTIV France.

On paper, with four committee presidencies, France appears to be doing at least as well as Germany. But it was only given top positions in symbolic committees such as development, experts said.

“The development committee, chaired by Eva Joly (Greens), is not one of the most influential,” according to Thierry Chopin, director of the Robert Schuman Foundation, a think-tank.

Meanwhile, Germany grabbed the top seats in the influential environment (ENVI) and industry (ITRE) committees, securing key positions for defending the interests of German companies when the Parliament examines new climate change and energy legislation.

In comparison, Corinne Lepage (ALDE; centre), a former environment minister, only managed to secure the vice-presidency of the environment committee, while Dominique Baudis (EPP; centre-right) and Jean-Luc Mélenchon (GUE; left) are both vice-presidents of the foreign affairs committee.

Socialist MEP Pervenche Berès, who will be replaced by British Liberal Democrat Sharon Bowles at the helm of the economic and monetary affairs committee, was emblematic of the French Socialists’ catastrophic election defeat, analysts said.

“It is one of the direct consequences of the French Socialists’ rout in the elections,” said the Robert Schuman Foundation’s Chopin. French MEPs were the single largest “national delegation” in the Socialist group under the previous legislature, but were relegated to third position after the elections.

No Parliament vice-president

In addition, France also lost its two representatives in the Parliament’s Bureau, which lays down the assembly’s agenda, budget and rules of procedure. The two positions were held by MEPs Gérard Onesta (Green) and Martine Roure (Socialist) in the previous legislature, due to their role as vice-presidents of the assembly.

But no French MEP was elected to a vice-president position in the 2009-2014 legislature. “With 29 MEPs from the UMP [French ruling party], one could have expected a vice-president post,” deplored Florent Saint-Martin, co-author of a book on the European Parliament. “It is a pity that France has nobody in this position,” he added, claiming this lack of representation could “make it more difficult” to justify keeping Strasbourg as a parliamentary seat.

Compensation with Lamassoure, Cohn-Bendit and other key MEPs

Nevertheless, France’s loss of influence in the Parliament’s top administrative body is somewhat compensated by the high political profile of some of the newly-elected MEPs, analysts said.

Alain Lamassoure (EPP), who won the chairmanship of the budget committee, will be an asset for France when the assembly reforms the EU’s budget for the post-2013 period, said Chopin. This will become particularly eivdent if the Lisbon Treaty goes through, as the treaty gives Parliament the final say over budget issues, including on agriculture, which is not included for now.

According to Chopin, Lamassoure’s was nominated due to “his experience and his competence in the European Parliament, but also to the increase in the number of French MEPs in the EPP, which grew from 18 to 29”.

“With Alain Lamassoure, Eva Joly and Pervenche Berès, France has heavy personalities,” argues Saint-Martin, claiming their influence will be “important to build compromises”.

In particular, Lamassoure’s “great reputation” should also help France to maintain its influence, he added. France has strong personalities in political groups too, which should help maintain its influence in Parliament, analysts said.

Daniel Cohn-Bendit (co-president of the Greens) and Joseph Daul (head of the EPP group, the largest in Parliament) will both sit in the conference of presidents, securing influence over the assembly’s agenda.

In the Greens group, “French MEPs are the first delegation, on a par with German MEPs,” notes Chopin, saying this was “essential in terms of influence” and allowed Cohn-Bendit to share the group presidency with German MEP Rebecca Harms.

Committee coordinators

Meanwhile, France has also “a very important margin for progress” to increase its numbers of “coordinators” in Parliament committees, says Chopin.

In the previous legislature, Germany and the UK had 27 and 23 MEPs respectively acting as coordinators, whereas France had just eight.

Author Saint-Martin says coordinators play a key role in shaping the opinion of political groups in parliamentary committees because “they direct the committee’s work, decide hearings and priority studies”.

French MEPs Jean-Paul Gauzès and Pascale Gruny have already been appointed coordinators for the centre-right EPP group. But the Socialists are yet to vote on theirs, and a decision is not expected until September. 

The European Parliament elected its committee presidents and vice-presidents during two rounds of elections earlier this month (EURACTIV 17/07/09).

The distribution of the chairmanships was decided by negotiations between the political groups on the basis of a system which gives them representation proportional to their size (the so-called 'D'Hondt method').

The centre-right EPP group kept nine chairs, the Socialists six and the Liberals (ALDE) three. The Green group and the new anti-federalist ECR group have taken one each.

According to a ranking produced by the European Institute for Participative Democracy (Qvorum) in Bucharest, Germany is the best represented member state as regards the Parliament's top positions (146.8 points), way ahead of France on 119 (EURACTIV 28/07/09). 

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