Navigating an exceptionally diverse European landscape

By Francine Cunningham

07-2019

Senior Public Affairs Manager, Francine Cunningham, outlines 9 things to look out for as the newly elected Members arrive for the first plenary session of the ninth term of the European Parliament

  1. Shift in balance of power: the political duopoly of the centre-right European People's Party ("EPP") and the centre-left Socialist group ("S&D"), which characterised the last four decades, ended with the results of the European elections. At the latest count, the EPP group held 179 seats and the S&D 153 in the new Parliament, compared to 217 and 187 respectively in the 2014-19 term. The combined strength of these two traditional political families is no longer enough to secure the required 376 votes to achieve a majority of votes on legislative files in what is an exceptionally diverse Parliament.

  2. Pro-European axis: despite many predictions to the contrary, the pro-European parties retained an overall dominant position in the Parliament. A reduction in the number of seats held by the Christian Democrats and Social Democrats should be viewed alongside gains for the Liberals and particularly the Greens. "Renew Europe", the new Liberal group that comprises former members of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe ("ALDE") and the French President Emmanuel Macron's "La Republique En Marche", holds 106 seats. This makes "Renew Europe" the third largest grouping in the Parliament.

  3. Coalition prospects: to reach majorities around vital votes, the Christian-Democratic and Social Democratic groups will likely aim to get "Renew Europe" on board. However, a coalition of the three largest parties would still have only a slim majority, which may be unworkable in practice. A four-way coalition that includes the Greens would deliver a more stable majority. Crucial policy decisions around, for example, the future regulation of e-commerce, will therefore be decided by bartering among disparate political families.

  4. Green agenda: there is likely to be more emphasis on sustainability across a wide range of policy issues, including harnessing the power of tech in favour of fighting climate change. With the Greens increasing their number to 75 MEPs (up from 52), this group will be crucial to forming a pro-EU bloc that can influence and implement the policy decisions during the new mandate. In the field of copyright and digital rights, it is notable that the Greens have welcomed the Czech Pirates into their fold.
     
  5. Nationalist parties: With the "League Party" of Matteo Salvini the largest winner in Italy, the "National Rally" ("NR") party of Marine Le Pen the biggest party in France (albeit by a slender margin) and Nigel Farage's "Brexit Party" the largest in the UK, different representations of Europe's nationalist right will have a notable presence in the incoming Parliament. "The League" and "NR" will work together with several other Eurosceptic parties such as Alternative for Germany (AfD) in a new alliance to be known as Identity and Democracy (ID). This grouping, which does not include the "Brexit Party", holds 73 seats.

  6. Brexit seats: The UK currently has 73 seats in the European Parliament. MEPs voted last year on a plan to abolish 46 of those seats in the event of the UK exiting the EU and then redistributing the remaining 27 seats among 14 Members States that have complained of being misrepresented. A number of countries such as France, Spain and Ireland have waiting lists of prospective MEPs who will only take up their seats after Brexit.

  7. Committees: MEPs are now being allocated to various committees, such as Internal Market, Industry, Legal Affairs, and Trade, which will then elect their chairs and vice-chairs. Historically, the largest political group gets the first pick of the committees it wishes to lead. Top prizes will be leadership of the International Trade Committee (INTA) and the Legal Affairs Committee (JURI), where the former rapporteur for the DSM Copyright Directive, the German Christian-democratic MEP, Axel Voss, has been talked of as a contender. At the first plenary session, the Parliament is also due to elect a new President and 14 Vice-Presidents.

  8. Digital movers and shakers: The Commission Vice-President for Digital Single Market, Andrus Ansip, from Estonia, will leave the Commission at the end of June to take up his seat in the Parliament for the Renew Europe group. The former German Minister of Justice, Katarina Barley, an outspoken critic of the DSM Copyright Directive, can be expected to be a high profile MEP on tech regulation issues for the S&D group. Another deputy to watch will be the French MEP Valérie Hayer, a member of the "En Marche" party, who intends to focus on tech policy in the next five years

  9. Commissioner Hearings: EU Member States have started to propose Commissioners-designate who will have to pass the hurdle of Hearings in front of the relevant European Parliament Committees in late September or October. This will be followed by a Parliament vote in October on the new College of Commissioners, which should normally take office on 1st November. While the Parliament cannot formally reject an individual candidate, it does have the power to refuse approval to the whole group if it is not satisfied with all of the nominees. If this happens, there could be a delay until early 2020 before the new Commissioners take up their seats.
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