Tuesday

22nd Aug 2017

Socialist MEPs seek new role after grand coalition

  • Gianni Pittella and Manfred Weber: Stronger with or without each other?

The European Parliament's Socialists are seeking a new role in an upended political landscape after the breakdown of their so-called grand coalition with the Christian Democrats.

Some in the Socialists and Democrats group (S&D) see the surprise move by their leader Gianni Pittella to do away with over two years of working closely together with their main political rivals, the European People’s Party (EPP), as liberation.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now and get 40% off for an annual subscription. Sale ends soon.

  1. €90 per year. Use discount code EUOBS40%
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

Pittella decided to break the grand coalition after the EPP's Antonio Tajani decided to run against him to succeed S&D's Martin Schulz as parliament president. Tajani was elected in January.

But most are aware that their life has just become more difficult.

“The political life will certainly get more dynamic, more effort will be needed to get a majority for the issues that matter to us,” German MEP Jo Leinen told this website, adding that Socialists would look for majorities on issues like social justice.

“It’s an open game. A new battle, a refreshing battle of political life in Europe, that better reflects the political realities in Europe,” Leinen said.

Some think that this opens up a bigger room for manoeuvre for the group.

"There is a sense of relief in the Socialist group now that the unspoken grand coalition's shackle is gone," said Istvan Ujhelyi, a Hungarian MEP.

"There were those of us who rebelled because by working together with the EPP we had to remove important issues for us from the agenda," he said, citing the example consumer rights or labour rights.

Another S&D source said giving up the grand coalition would not lead to the isolation of the group in the parliament.

“It will be more difficult, but more democratic,” the source quipped.

When asked by this website, Pittella said he was proud of the decision to do away with the grand coalition that was forged after the 2014 European elections under Schulz, partly to secure majority over eurosceptic forces.

“The influence of the S&D will not only be maintained, but strengthened,” Pittella insisted, saying he was hoping to build a coalition starting for the left.

He said that for crucial votes, Socialists MEPs would be needed. “Without us, the EP cannot deliver.”

But Doru Frantescu director of VoteWatch Europe, a think-tank in Brussels, told this website that the S&D’s influence is likely to decrease ahead of September's German elections.

He said that the CDU, chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian-Democratic party "will try to isolate as much the S&D, and [German centre-left] SPD as much as possible until September."

Manfred Weber, the German leader of the EPP group has already taken aim at the centre-left recently at a Strasbourg press conference alleging that while Socialists complain about youth unemployment, they vote against issues that can create jobs, like the EU-Canada trade deal.

About 30 percent of S&D MEPs voted against the deal on Wednesday.

“This is just pure hypocrisy,” Weber said at the event, where he unveiled common ideas for the EU with liberal leader Guy Verhofstadt.

He charged that Pittella was picking an ideological fight with EPP, and against the “partnership approach”.

The S&D will also have to face the dilemma that many of their national parties are struggling with, whether to move further to the left or stick to the pro-free market centre.

“Until they get their act together, they are in grey area,” VoteWatch Europe's Frantescu said.

“These are going to be difficult times ahead, but at least luckily for them there won’t be a vote on TTIP [the planned US-EU free trade deal] anytime soon,” he added, arguing that it could further drive a wedge within the group.

Still alive

But despite the rhetoric, the grand coalition isn’t dead yet.

That was visible during the Ceta vote on Wednesday, which was passed with a comfortable majority thanks to the Socialists' votes.

“We are not seeing a lot of changes in the dynamic in the parliament. Until now, it is more about political discourse than practice,” said Frantescu.

“After the Weber-Verhofstadt coalition, not much has changed. On the reports on future on Europe, EPP and S&D voted together against the liberals,” he added.

Ska Keller, co-president of the Greens also expressed scepticism about whether the grand-coalition is indeed gone.

“I’m not so convinced that it is really dead,” she told this website in Strasbourg, pointing to the voting on committee chairmen, where she said the two major parties worked together.

Keller said the socialists are reaching out, but also charged that a lot of Socialists MEPs “felt comfortable” in the grand-coalition because it was easier to get things done.

Socialists dismiss EU parliament unity plea

Socialist leader Gianni Pittella rejects a call for continued cooperation from his centre-right counterpart, in a dispute that threatens the balance of power in the house.

Socialist MEPs split on EU-Canada trade deal

MEPs' first exchange of views on CETA revealed that the socialist block is still undecided on the deal, and Canada's visa obligation for Bulgarian and Romanian citizens looks like a major stumbling block.

Stakeholder

We must renew Europe for all Europeans

A call for socialist values and rights at a time when Europe is facing a number of existential threats, says a group of progressive European affairs ministers.

Opinion

How to stop the collapse of the Dutch left

Despite the sighs of relief that Geert Wilders did not win the Dutch election, there has been a worrying fragmentation and defeat of the left in the Netherlands.

'Killer robots' are not about Terminator

A European signatory of an open letter about autonomous weapons says the imagery of fictional killer robots is distracting from a seriously dangerous issue.

News in Brief

  1. US will ask Nato allies to send more troops into Afghanistan
  2. Greece to be absent at event on Communism and Nazism
  3. Czechs want observer status in Eurogroup meetings
  4. Putin sends EU-blacklisted ambassador to US
  5. Austria has begun checks at Italian border
  6. Slovenian PM: Brexit talks will take longer than expected
  7. Merkel backs diesel while report warns of economic harm
  8. UK to publish new Brexit papers this week

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Jewish CongressEuropean Governments Must Take Stronger Action Against Terrorism
  2. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceDoes Genetics Explain Why So Few of Us Have an Ideal Cardiovascular Health?
  3. EU2017EEFuture-Themed Digital Painting Competition Welcomes Artists - Deadline 31 Aug
  4. ACCABusinesses Must Grip Ethics and Trust in the Digital Age
  5. European Jewish CongressEJC Welcomes European Court of Justice's Decision to Keep Hamas on Terror List
  6. UNICEFReport: Children on the Move From Africa Do Not First Aim to Go to Europe
  7. Centre Maurits CoppietersWe Need Democratic and Transparent Free Trade Agreements Says MEP Jordi Solé
  8. Counter BalanceOut for Summer, Ep. 2: EIB Promoting Development in Egypt - At What Cost?
  9. EU2017EELocal Leaders Push for Local and Regional Targets to Address Climate Change
  10. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceMore Women Than Men Have Died From Heart Disease in Past 30 Years
  11. European Jewish CongressJean-Marie Le Pen Faces Trial for Oven Comments About Jewish Singer
  12. ACCAAnnounces Belt & Road Research at Shanghai Conference

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. ECPAFood Waste in the Field Can Double Without Crop Protection. #WithOrWithout #Pesticides
  2. EU2017EEEstonia Allocates €1 Million to Alleviate Migratory Pressure From Libya in Italy
  3. Dialogue PlatformFethullah Gulen's Message on the Anniversary of the Coup Attempt in Turkey
  4. Martens CentreWeeding Out Fake News: An Approach to Social Media Regulation
  5. European Jewish CongressEJC Concerned by Normalisation of Antisemitic Tropes in Hungary
  6. Counter BalanceOut for Summer Ep. 1: How the EIB Sweeps a Development Fiasco Under the Rug
  7. CESICESI to Participate in Sectoral Social Dialogue Committee on Postal Services
  8. ILGA-EuropeMalta Keeps on Rocking: Marriage Equality on Its Way
  9. European Friends of ArmeniaEuFoA Director and MEPs Comment on the Recent Conflict Escalation in Nagorno-Karabakh
  10. EU2017EEEstonian Presidency Kicks off Youth Programme With Coding Summer School
  11. EPSUEP Support for Corporate Tax Transparency Principle Unlikely to Pass Reality Check
  12. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament Improves the External Investment Plan but Significant Challenges Ahead