New European Parliament takes shape: Grand Coalition to lead?
Following the European elections in late May, 24 June marked the deadline for MEPs to negotiate the pan-national political groups they will sit in for the coming five years. These groups matter because they divide up responsibility for the Parliament’s dossiers according to their size and receive funding and speaking time. While the affiliation of most MEPs was known before the elections, some delegations are new to the Parliament and others have renegotiated their allegiance. As expected, the two main political groups, the centre-right EPP and centre-left S&D, dominate with a combined total of nearly 55% of the seats, and will try to work together on many files to find acceptable compromises. However, there have been some surprises among the smaller groups, which will give the new Parliament a somewhat different flavour from its predecessor.
The New Landscape
EPP: Centre-right diminished but still on top 221 MEPs (29.4%) Leader: Manfred Weber (Germany)
Despite losing over 60 MEPs, the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP) is still the largest in the Parliament with 221 seats and it has retained the affiliation of all its key national delegations. The EPP is a broad church with members from nearly all nationalities, whose largest delegations come from Germany (34 MEPs), Poland (23), France (20) and Spain (17). It is largely pro-business, albeit one that likes to compromise and tries to include a social element in its policies. The group has pledged to make growth and jobs its priority, mindful of the damage that the last five years has done to the pro-European cause which it champions.
S&D: Centre-left will fight austerity but still do deals 191 MEPs (25.4%) Leader: Martin Schulz (Germany)
The centre-left Socialists and Democrats group (S&D) is the second largest in the Parliament, with 191 MEPs. It too has kept the membership of its national delegations from the previous Parliament, and its biggest representations come from Italy (31 MEPs), Germany (27), the UK (20) and Romania (16). The group has vowed to fight the politics of austerity, and can be expected to take a critical line on trade deals, tax evasion and any other issue where there is a perception that corporate interests might prevail over protection of citizens. Yet this will not prevent it from seeking deals with the EPP.
ECR: Conservative group grows – cohesion unclear 70 MEPs (9.3%) Leader: Syed Kamall (UK)
The European Conservatives and Reformists group (ECR) has achieved a coup by recruiting new members to become the third largest in the Parliament. The group was established only five years ago at the instigation of the British Conservatives to give centre-right eurosceptics a home outside the EPP. Its survival was often questioned during the last Parliament, but it has just successfully poached MEPs from other groups and recruited the new German anti-euro party, AfD. The group is business-friendly and eurosceptic while playing a constructive role in the Parliament’s committees. Its diverse membership does however leave its cohesion open to question.
ALDE: Liberals see influence dwindle 67 MEPs (8.9%) Leader: Guy Verhofstadt (Belgium)
The Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe group (ALDE) experienced a bad result in the election, losing most of its British and German members and has since failed to recruit certain MEPs who were expected to join (e.g. the Flemish NVA). This means it has lost its traditional third place. Its membership covers nearly all Member States, and its largest national delegation is only seven strong (the Dutch). What they have in common is their strongly pro-Europeanism: leader Guy Verhofstadt made high-profile speeches during the last Parliament calling for further integration to save the euro. While his group will continue to play a role, it will have somewhat less influence than in the last Parliament.