European Parliament Committees: Winners and Losers

Strategic Communications

July 9, 2014

Following the European elections in late May, the European Parliament political groups finalised the structure of the new legislature on 7 July by electing the Chairs of the 20 standing committees, where most of the legislative work takes place. The Parliament has already demonstrated its increased status by successfully imposing on the Member States its choice for European Commission President, Jean-Claude Juncker. However, pro-European MEPs fear that disruptive eurosceptic elements may undermine efforts to sustain the Parliament’s strengthened role. The main pro-European political groups have therefore striven to limit the influence of anti-European MEPs. As a result, while the eurosceptics have increased in number, the allocation of leading roles in the committees shows that the pro-Europeans have consolidated their power in the Parliament at the expense of the other groups.

Why the committees matter

The committees are the Parliament's legislative and policy engine rooms. In the preparatory work for Plenary sessions, the 20 committees draw up reports to amend legislative proposals and non-legislative (‘own-initiative’) reports on important issues. Their de jure and de facto powers have increased with the surge in EU legislation adopted under codecision procedure. In the last parliamentary term, 78% of the amendments were tabled by the committees and 52% of them were adopted. Each committee elects a Chair for a 2.5-year term: the Chairs play an important role in finding consensus within their committees. They are also part of legislative dialogue with the Commission and Council. Allocation of the Chairs is therefore an important measure of a political group’s influence.

Backroom deal favours pro-EU groups

Membership in the committees and the distribution of Chairs by political groups is supposed to reflect roughly the composition of the Plenary. Instead, the allocation for the new Parliament reflects a deal between the three main pro-EU political groups, the European People’s Party (EPP), the Socialists and Democrats (S&D) and the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE). Through this, ALDE has secured three committee Chairs, 15% of the total, with just under 9% of the total number of MEPs; whereas the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) group has only one Chair, even though it has three more MEPs overall. The hardcore eurosceptic Europe of Freedom & Direct Democracy (EFDD) group with 6.4% of MEPs was even blocked from taking the Chair of the Petitions Committee, the least influential of all the Parliament’s committees.

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