Sat 19 October 2019

With MEPs about to formally take office next week there is a faintly detectable breeze of change in Strasbourg’s corridors. Can the Green, Liberal and Social Democrats coalition rock the stage or will it be business as usual?

In May, voters across 28 European countries elected some 751 MEPs, who will be in charge of approving EU laws and regulations proposed by the next European Commission. The composition of the latter always reflected the balance of forces in Parliament between centre right EPP and centre left PES.

Since together these two coalitions always had an overall majority , both groups negotiated the allocation of portfolios in the European Commission, and indirectly in the European Council and the European Central Bank. On each law or regulation, both groups made compromises, often resulting in a much poorer enacted legislation than when proposed. 

New “Coalition”

Coalitions in the European Parliament aren’t new at all – in fact there were the default position for each bit of legislation when both major groups couldn’t find a middle group solution. Sometimes it resulted in bizarre shenanigans reflecting the diversity inside each group: fiscal progressives of some Eurosceptic or far right groups backing papers proposed by the social democrats; left wing GUE/NGL voting together with Eurosceptics or Greens standing shoulder to shoulder with ALDE liberals and the EPP conservatives. 

Should the wider European Greens follow Macron and he will get an influential and active partner.

But this time, with ADE – En Marche (now called “Renew Europe”) making noticeable performances in France, the UK or Eastern Europe, and the Greens similarly high in Germany, France and Austria; something else could happen. As a great philosopher once said, ‘nothing is agreed until everything is agreed’.

It seems that Emmanuel Macron has ambitions to structure a coherent and ideas-based coalition, trying to get liberals on board, including some moderates from both the EPP and the PES – just like he did in France. He also left the door wide open for an agreement with the European Greens, something French Green leader Yannick Jadot has already refused. Should the wider European Greens follow Macron and he will get an influential and active partner. But it won’t be enough since the participation of one of the two major groups in required to get an overall majority (376). 

Although weakened by major losses in key countries (France, Germany, UK, Italy), the social democrats could be on board for such a coalition now that the group is dominated by the liberal wing from Netherlands, Eastern Europe and Germany.

And even the more fiscally progressive wing, traditionally from Southern Europe (Spain, Italy, Portugal) seems to be in for a coalition with Macron’s liberals. Spanish Prime Minister and leader of the PSOE said that talks are ongoing with the ALDE group. Should they find an agreement, the European Parliament will have for the first time since its creation in 1979 a real coalition – and balanced on the centre / centre-left.

Far right Eurosceptic parties fail to create a unified group

They may be the strongest forces in France, Italy, UK, Poland, Hungary, Belgium and make good scores in Sweden, Finland, Czech Republic or in Slovakia, far right or right wing Eurosceptic parties are, once more, unable to find a compromise in order to unite and create the EP’s third biggest group.

While they all share the same anti-immigration rhetoric, it seems their differences on other issues are too big to be sorted out. Polish PiS recently accused Salvini and Le Pen with being Putin’s allies in Europe – vowing to refuse siding with them. They will continue to seat with British Conservatives in the ECR. 

Polish PiS recently accused Salvini and Le Pen with being Putin’s allies in Europe – vowing to refuse siding with them.

As for Salvini’s new alliance that should have rocked Strasbourg, it seems likely that the Italian Interior Minister will lose his gamble, since nor Farage’s Brexit Party nor Spanish Vox or Scandinavian far right parties have accepted to seat in it.

Nevertheless, he will probably be able to count on French Rassemblement National and on Orban’s Fidesz. The Eurosceptic parties will, once more, be split into different groups: ECR – Eurosceptic conservatives (British Conservatives, Polish PiS), EFDD – Eurosceptic right wing (Brexit Party, M5S) and the ENF – Eurosceptic far right (Liga, Rassemblement national).

Nothing new: states battling for influence

If a centrist – centre-left coalition composed of the social democrats, the greens and liberals is formed, and if the far right fails to create a unified group, this leaves the door wide open for some changes in European institutions. Will the EU have a real coalition and then the beginning of a beginning of real political and ideological confrontation that would both interest European citizens and make them feel member of a wider family?

Maybe. Maybe not. 

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Although alliances in Strasbourg may have changed, there is something that is unlikely to change unless the founding treaties are changed: it’s the regular fight between major states to get the maximum influence on the course of the next term.

And this time – like many others – Germany seems to be ready. While they still claim that their Spitzenkandidat, Manfred Weber, leader of the EPP arrived first and then should get the Presidency of the European Commission, Merkel also tries to have the biggest piece of the cake, seizing power in Frankfurt in trying to impose a German at the ECB presidency.

Germans are already holding key positions in Parliament select committees, vice-presidencies of many groups and inside the European Council as well. And this is something which is likely to continue.

Should German conservatives succeed in holding these positions, Macron’s dream of a global reform of the EU will vanish.

On the other hand, will Emmanuel Macron impose a liberal at the European Commission presidency or at least a French? Michel Barnier? No way, say the Germans, who have firmly rejected this proposition just as Macron did with Weber.

Once again, the battle for key seats and positions will determine which state will have the greatest influence in Brussels: enacting proposals and imposing its vision on the future of the EU.

Should German conservatives succeed in holding these positions, Macron’s dream of a global reform of the EU will vanish.

The name of the next President of the European Commission will be important but if you want my advice, get a look to the wider composition: it will tell you which country will orchestrate the concert of European nations for the 5 years ahead.

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