MEPs decide Parliament top jobs this WEEK
By Benjamin Fox
Seven hundred and fifty one MEPs from 186 national parties will gather in Strasbourg this week, as the eighth European Parliament is formally constituted on Tuesday (1 July).
Despite losing more than 60 seats in May’s European elections, the centre-right EPP group remains the largest of seven political factions in the new parliament. There are no new additions among the seven groups – ranging from the far-left to to the eurosceptic right – after far-right MEPs led by France’s Marine Le Pen failed to find deputies from six other EU countries needed to form a parliamentary group.
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The first act by MEPs will be to elect a new president.
Martin Schulz, the Socialist Spitzenkandidat in May’s elections, is likely to retain the post which he held during the campaign, under a deal between the parliament’s two largest groups. The EPP-Socialist deal will see the centre-right group take the presidency in 2017 for the second half of the legislature.
But the two groups are fewer in number than before and this, coupled with a backlash among smaller groups against the presidency ‘stitch up’, means that Schulz’s margin of victory will likely be smaller than in 2014.
Schulz’s challengers for the post are Sajjad Karim, a British Conservative, Pablo Iglesias, a Spanish member of the leftist GUE group, and Austrian Green MEP Ulrike Lunacek.
Also up for grabs the following day are 14 vice-presidencies, while MEPs will confirm positions on the assembly’s legislative committees on Thursday.
The session will also bring to a close the Greek EU presidency, with Italian leader Matteo Renzi, who now takes over the presidency reins, presenting his priorities for the next six months to MEPs on Wednesday.
Renzi’s centre-left Democratic party was one of the big winners in May’s elections. Its 31 seats make it the largest national delegation in the 191 member S&D group, and its MEPs Gianni Pitella and Roberto Gualtieri are poised to become group leader and chair of the economic affairs committee, respectively.
Renzi has indicated that he will re-open debate on the bloc’s stability and growth pact to loosen the way that the rules, which require governments to remain within the strict constraint of a 3 percent budget deficit, are interpreted.
Despite keeping to the EU’s deficit limits, Italy’s sluggish economic performance has pushed up the country’s national debt to over 130 percent of output.
Elsewhere, the European commission will set out plans to enforce its rules on intellectual property rights outside the EU on Tuesday, in an otherwise quiet week for the EU executive.
In Vienna, meanwhile, negotiations on Iran's nuclear programme will continue on Wednesday, led by EU’s foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.