Excluding political groups in EU Parliament is bad for democracy

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Philippe Lamberts MEP and his Greens/EFA co-president has criticised the blocking of Farage's group from EP committee chairs. [Friends of Europe/Flickr]

A voting alliance between the three largest pro-European parties to block Nigel Farage’s Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy (EFDD) group from European Parliament committee chairs casts doubts over the Parliament’s ability to guarantee pluralism, write Rebecca Harms and Philippe Lamberts.

Philippe Lamberts is a Belgian Green MEP and co-president of the European Greens/European Free Alliance group with Rebecca Harms, a German Green MEP.

On Monday 7 July, three of the four biggest political groups in the European Parliament (EP) carried out a successful voting alliance to prevent the Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy group from gaining the representation to which it was entitled on the committees. 

The move casts doubts over the Parliament’s established method for guaranteeing pluralism.

While the process for distributing the chairs and vice-chairs of Parliament’s committees (the D’Hondt repartition system) is complicated, the principle behind it is simple.

It aims to ensure a fair distribution of these posts, based on the relative sizes of the EP’s different political groups. It is a democratic system for ensuring minority representation and pluralism.

Changing this democratic convention has implications for the pluralism and the spirit of compromise, which has enabled the European Parliament to function so effectively in the EU’s democratic decision-making system.

So, there are legitimate concerns about this potential precedent at the start of a legislative term in which the Parliament will have to fight, more than ever, to ensure a balance of power with EU governments in Council.

Like the EFDD group or not – and the Greens are probably as far from the populist Euroscepticism of Nigel Farage as anyone in the European Parliament – they were entitled to their share of posts on the EP’s committees.

If they had proposed inappropriate candidates for the posts on the committees, MEPs would have been justified in opposing their candidature on a case-by-case basis. However, this was not the case for most of the EFDD candidates.

The Greens/EFA  group has always intensely scrutinised candidates for these important positions and has had no problem to oppose candidates deemed unfit for the task.

However, in those cases in which we have opposed candidates we have argued that the posts should be filled by different candidates from the same group; respecting the system for fairly distributing these posts.

This was the case on the EP’s economic affairs committee on Monday, with the European Conservatives and Reformists group now asked to present a different candidate.

While we have major problems with some of the basic tenets on which the EFDD group is founded, systematically excluding a whole political group strikes at the method for guaranteeing pluralism that has prevailed in the European Parliament. Pluralism is a fundamental part of democracy and should be a cherished part of any democratic institution.  

The Greens/EFA group tried to make this case ahead of Monday’s votes on the committee posts and will continue to engage with all political groups to this end.

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