Saturday

6th Jun 2020

Political group leaders meet amid alliance speculation

Political group presidents will meet on Tuesday (28 May) morning behind closed doors to discuss the European elections amid broader speculation on possible coalitions within the European Parliament.

They are also likely to discuss candidates for the next president of the European Commission - ahead of an informal dinner later that same day in Brussels between member state prime ministers and heads of state.

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Whatever the final talking points in the so-called Conference of Presidents, coalition-building is likely to be a messy affair given the assembly's new balance of powers.

One EU parliament source said it "will take some time" - and that groups first need to reflect before making any real overtures.

"The groups need to focus and think. Right now there are only two groups that have confirmed leadership, the EPP [centre-right] and the Greens," he noted.

The leaders of the centre-right EPP, socialist S&D, liberals, greens and radical left GUE on Sunday evening all pronounced some variation of possible coalitions in the hopes of creating a large pro-European force.

Details, as usual, are tricky as groups begin to mull options and numbers before getting into the fine print.

Each has their own mix of priorities that will clash with others. The socialists say they want a majority based first around a programme and its content.

The loss of seats in the EPP and socialist camps, however, means there is no longer a clear majority for either, a first since 1979. The EPP dropped from 216 to 180 in the 751-seat assembly. The socialists went from 185 to 145, taking a thrashing in Germany, France and the UK.

Liberal kingmakers?

It puts the liberals under Belgian MEP Guy Verhofstadt in a strategic position. They have secured a comfortable third place with 109 seats, a figure that includes MEPs from French president Macron's Renaissance party, among others.

On Tuesday, the liberal delegations will decide on a new group name, which is provisionally: "ALDE plus Renaissance plus USR Plus".

Verhofstadt's own leadership position under the new group is also not guaranteed, amid broader questions on how the sides will get along.

A staunch federalist, Verhofstadt is eyeing a renewed opportunity to shake up the old two-party majority previously shared between the EPP and S&D.

In a statement, he said the group remains open to "all candidates that can gather the support of the political families that will compose the future governing majority."

A centre-left coalition or a centre-right coalition will need ALDE-Renaissance to pass the magic 50 percent majority threshold in the assembly.

A work around without the ALDE-Renaissance would entail the EPP, socialists and the Greens, who secured 69 seats.

It is unclear to what extent the left-leaning groups will see ALDE-Renaissance as a possible partner, given in part their pro-business liberal ideology.

Commission president - who?

Coalitions aside, another big priority remains who will become the next president of the European Commission.

The issue is likely to be discussed by the Conference of Presidents given the informal dinner later that evening, where heads of state or government will start the nomination process for the new EU institution leaders.

Their full attendance is not guaranteed.

Austria's chancellor Sebastian Kurz lost a motion of confidence at home on Monday following the political video scandal involving his far-right FPO coalition partner.

Trouble is also brewing in Belgium where the caretaker government under embattled prime minister Charles Michel is facing the daunting task of forming a new coalition.

Denmark is preparing national elections in early June and Finland still hasn't formed its own coalition government.

Questions also loom over the future of Italy's Five Star Movement who is in a government coalition with the far-right League. The populist Italian party lost seats, dropping it to third place behind the socialists.

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Poland's 'vague' nominee flops in EU hearing

Poland's nominee for agriculture commissioner, Janusz Wojciechowski, is likely to face a second hearing after MEPs from top political groups lambasted his "vague" performance on Tuesday.

Analysis

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The EU parliament will organise public hearings to assess the future commissioners' suitability for their job and their knowledge about the portfolio they had assigned, before the new EU commission takes office on 1 November.

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