Sunday

5th Apr 2020

Deal on EP vice-presidents divides new liberal group

  • Irish EPP member Mairead McGuinness (l) receives congratulations from her group leader, Manfred Weber, after being elected vice-president of the EU parliament with the most votes, 618 (Photo: European Parliament)

A deal between the three largest political groups in the European Parliament has assured that the centre-right European People's Party (EPP) and the centre-left Socialists & Democrats (S&D) will continue to hold a majority in the powerful internal decision-making body, the Bureau.

However, a top-down request by the leader of the third-largest group, Renew Europe (the former Alde liberal group), to support EPP and S&D candidates for the posts of vice-president, has created "discontent" within the liberal group, a spokesman has told EUobserver.

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  • German centre-right MEP Rainer Wieland, a strong defender of the no-questions-asked monthly lump sum allowance of €4,513 for MEPs, was re-elected to the Bureau (Photo: European Parliament)

"This was part of a deal drawn up between the group leaders of EPP, S&D and Renew Europe, that they would support each other," he said on Thursday (4 July).

Liberal MEPs of the Renew Europe group, which includes the members of French president Emmanuel Macron's party, were given a list of who to vote for.

The list, leaked online, showed ten names of MEPs, which liberals were "kindly requested" to vote for, "following the pro-European agreement with the EPP and S&D". Eight of the names were EPP and S&D candidates, the other two were liberals.

The Renew Europe spokesman explained this was a "higher-level decision" by group leaders. "Not everyone knew this list was coming," he said, adding that it was not strictly followed by MEPs.

Fidesz row

The list included a request to support incumbent vice-president Livia Jaroka, a member of the Hungarian Fidesz party, which nominally has been suspended from the EPP.

Jaroka nevertheless was put forward by EPP and re-elected, receiving 349 votes in the first round, securing the required absolute majority of votes cast.

"Not everyone followed the list in the case of the Fidesz MEP, because of concerns about what Fidesz is doing in Hungary," said the liberal spokesman.

At a minimum, the Hungarian liberal MEPs and the Liberal Democrats from the UK voted for someone else, he said.

A Greens spokeswoman called the liberal support for Jaroka "incredible", considering the poor rule of law track record of Hungary under Fidesz prime minister Viktor Orban.

"You have to see it in the context of the bigger game of the new coalition," the Renew Europe spokesman explained.

It was unclear how the vice-presidents deal will affect coalition talks of the three largest groups with the Greens.

The 'Bureau'

The vote for the vice-presidents resulted in MEPs electing five EPP members and three S&D members to become vice-president, meaning the two groups will control eight of fourteen votes in the Bureau.

Moreover, the newly elected European parliament president, who chairs the Bureau and can vote in the event of a tie, is socialist David Sassoli.

The Greens, who did well in the EU parliament elections, increased their presence in the Bureau. Finnish MEP Heidi Hautala was re-elected, with 336 votes in the first round.

She will be joined by Marcel Kolaja, a Green MEP from the Czech Pirate party.

The liberals did not increase their number, despite also boosting their number of MEPs in the May elections. They will again have two MEPs in the Bureau.

The European Parliament elected 14 vice-presidents on Wednesday. Five of them were already vice-presidents in the previous term (Photo: European Parliament)

Far-left Greek MEP Dimitris Papadimoulis, from Syriza, managed to get re-elected to the Bureau in the second round of voting (303 votes in the first round, then 401).

The European Conservatives and Reformists group failed to get its candidate elected, so did the far-right Identity and Democracy group, which had put Italian League MEP Mara Bizzotto forward.

Another Italian whose party is in government did manage to get a seat on the Bureau: the Five Star Movement's Fabio Massimo Castaldo.

The Bureau, despite its dull name, is a powerful body within the EU parliament.

It makes decisions on internal procedures, and has the final word on reforms asked for by MEPs.

For example, a majority of MEPs have asked in plenary resolutions for a mandatory training on recognising workplace harassment, for MEPs and staff.

But a majority in the Bureau simply refused to carry out this request.

The same goes for plenary requests to increase transparency in the system of office expenses - known as the general expenditure allowance, a monthly lump sum of €4,513 for each MEP.

Last year, the Bureau decided to ignore a plenary request to require keeping receipts, as well as a demand that unspent funds of the taxpayer funded allowance should be returned to the parliament coffers at the end of an MEP's mandate.

Eight Bureau members against six blocked these reforms, including German EPP member Rainer Wieland and Irish EPP member Mairead McGuinness.

A majority of MEPs however seems to have forgiven them for not carrying out the will of the plenary.

McGuinness was re-elected as vice-president on Wednesday with a whopping 618 votes in the first round. Wieland received 516 votes.

Although with some 60 percent of MEPs being new, it is more likely that they had no idea and simply followed the group line.

Quaestors

The Bureau also consists of five so-called quaestors, MEPs that are supposed to deal "with administrative matters directly affecting MEPs themselves".

On Thursday (4 July), the plenary voted them into office for two-and-a-half years.

Two of them come from EPP, one from S&D. Renew Europe and ECR secured the other quaestor posts.

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