23rd Oct 2016


The centre-left – acting like victors after the EU vote?

  • Schulz (l) is hoping to be helped back into the EP presidency (Photo: PES Communications)

The centre-left is playing a remarkable game since it came second in the EU elections one month ago.

A straight up look at the political factions in the European Parliament shows that the centre-right have 221 seats while the socialists have 191.

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However a combination of the more diverse make-up of the parliament plus the dynamics of Germany’s domestic politics has given them a stronger hand than apparent at first glance.

The new constellations in the parliament mean that neither centre-right nor centre-left coalitions in the parliament are able to form a majority.

So a grand-coalition way of doing business – much like in Germany, the motherland of grand coalitions – will prevail. The EPP faction has already formally announced the beginning of coalition negotiations with the S&D.

A glance at the way the EU jobs are shaping up is testament to the centre-left’s negotiating power.

Sure Jean-Claude Juncker, from the EPP, is likely to be nominated for the post of European Commission president.

But the centre-left is conditioning its support for him on a promise to loosen the rules underpinning the euro, the stability and growth pact.

Italy's Matteo Renzi, riding on the back of an impressive victory in the EU elections, is making the case for more time for deficit reduction as well as not counting public investment programmes in deficit calculations.

France’s Francois Hollande, although almost completely absent from the EU scene due to disastrous performance at the EU polls, is quietly backing Rome.

Juncker's nomination is likely to be put to a vote at a summit later this week. Plenty of EU leaders have doubts about his suitability, so this gives Renzi a potential king-maker role and thus a strong hand when it comes to the putative president's policy programme.

Meanwhile, German domestic politics have also taken an interesting turn.

The Social Democrats, in power with Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats, are restive.

Sigmar Gabriel, economy minister, has also called for EU fiscal rules to be loosened. This represents a first and comes after several years of voters struggling to tell the CDU and the SPD apart when it came to EU policy.

Gabriel has also called for a consolation prize for Martin Schulz, the centre-left’s Spitzenkandidat who came runner-up in the EU elections.

The party magnanimously said it would not insist on Schulz taking Germany's EU commissioner post but instead settle for him taking the EP presidency again.

Merkel acquiesced. German centre-right MEPs will support Schulz becoming the European Parliament chief (again) for the next 2.5 years.

Meanwhile at their recent Paris meeting, centre-left leaders, while agreeing the Juncker-Schulz trade-off, also indicated they want someone from their camp in the foreign affairs post and are backing the Italian head of diplomacy, Federica Mogherini.

At last count, the European Council president post was also set for a social democrat – Denmark’s prime minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt.

So to sum up: the EU commission may end up being headed up by a president who has promised to ease fiscal rules – one of the left's biggest wishes – while the parliament presidency and one other post is also likely to go to the left.

This would represent a strong win for a party that came runner-up in the elections; a blow for Angela Merkel who neither favours Juncker nor softening the stability pact; and a stunning display of hypocrisy by Martin Schulz, who campaigned again the backroom deals on nominations when he was running for the commission presidency.

EU parliament approves Juncker commission

MEPs have approved Juncker's new EU commission, with a slightly smaller majority than in 2010, and following a number of concessions on portfolios.

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