The Battle of 2 ex-PMs in the European Parliament is looming

Two weeks ago the new European Parliament is chosen. Today the politicians and the media in Poland are already focused on the next hurdle, the Sejm and the Senate elections in October. Meanwhile, the new European Parliament is self-organizing, taking shape and taking its first decisions.

The European People’s Party (EPP), the largest political group in the European Parliament, is now established. The new/old leader is Mr. Manfred Weber, and one of his deputies is Ms. Ewa Kopacz (EPP/PO). In the refreshed corridors of the massive building next to the place Luxembourg in Brussels rumours dominate the conversations. Rumours about what may happen in the coming weeks because of the puzzle at the very top – who will become the president of the European Commission, the European Parliament, the European Council, the Central Bank and the High Representative for Foreign Policy? Those big decisions will impact the lower-ranked, but very important positions, such as the chairmen of parliamentary committees.

Some actors play poker. For example, the Commissioners who have been elected to the European Parliament must choose: whether they take an MEP mandate and lose their Commissioner status, or whether they shall continue to work in the Commission hoping to be re-chosen by their government and the new unknown Commission President. In this situation, for example, is Bulgarian Commissioner Mariya Gabriel, who decided not to accept the MEP mandate counting on the continuation of work in the College.

The Battle of two former PMs is coming

Another piece of gossip I hear from so many sources is that it should be considered confirmed. Ms. Ewa Kopacz may soon change her new job as EPP vice-chairwoman for the vice-presidency of the European Parliament. In such a situation her party, the Civic Platform (PO) and the Polish People’s Party (PSL) – two Polish EPP members, that is – may still hope for one committee chairmanship, but of which committee – it is not known. It is too early, as “d’Hondt is decisive for everything”: each of the EP groups has the right to the allocation of positions in proportion and, in turn, positions are allocated one by one to the next group in line. The largest EPP chooses the first position, then Social Democrats from S&D, then liberals from ALDE-R, then Greens? No, EPP (about 180 MEPs) is more than twice the size of the Greens (about 70 MEPs), so the second position for the EPP will be allocated earlier than the first for the Greens.

In the EPP, they estimate that the group shall have six chairmen of parliamentary committees. However, these issues will be clarified only in the coming weeks. All depends on the number and size of the groups – for example, it is not known what will happen on the right side of the Parliament and whether a group is formed between the British Brexit and the Italians from the Five Star Movement. For the group to be created, 25 MEPs from at least seven countries are needed. Apparently, the parties of Mr. Nigel Farage (Brexit) and Mr. Luigi di Maio (the Five Stars Movement) have a problem with completing the seven countries. There are no such problems among the European Conservatives and Reformists (the Polish PiS is the biggest member), which was just joined by new deputies from three countries. Among them is the Forum voor Democratie from the Netherlands. Also the new group created by anti-system MEPs of the Italian League and French from Marine Le Pen should not have problems with attractive 7 states’ MEPs.

“It is being counted,” says EPP MEP Mr. Jan Olbrycht, who may return to the position of a vice-chairman of the EPP if Ms. Kopacz, the former prime minister, is elected as vice-president of Parliament. This is one of the options under consideration, and the EPP is to make its decisions at an away meeting next week in San Sebastian, Spain.

Five years ago the PO and PSL MEPs strategy was different. They did not take the position of EP vice-president considering it insignificant. In exchange, they were able to fill in three positions of less visible but extremely influential chairmen of parliamentary committees: Mr. Jerzy Buzek was chairman of the Industry and Energy Committee (ITRE), Ms. Danuta Hübner became the chairwoman of the constitutional committee (AFCO) dealing with Brexit, and Mr. Czesław Siekierski led the work of the agricultural commission (AGRI). Mr Siekierski was not re-elected.

This time the PO goals are dictated by the national policy: if Law and Justice wants to win the position of the Parliament’s vice-president for Ms. Beata Szydło, the PO will want to show that Ms. Kopacz is more popular than the political star of PiS. Parliament’s vice-presidents are usually elected by acclamation, but their rank depends on who gets more votes. So, what to beat: who will rank higher among the 14th vice-president (there are as many vice-presidents).

A very interesting situation is drawn in the ECR group. Domination of Poles from PiS is total: 27 of about 65 MEPs are elected in Poland. Thus, all the major positions belonging to the group can become Polish: the vice president of the Parliament (Ms. Szydło replacing Mr. Zdzisław Krasnodębski in the previous term) as well as the second vice-president or a quaestor of the Parliament (formerly Mr. Karol Karski), the group chairman (Mr. Ryszard Legutko’s re-appointment was already announced), and one of Parliament’s committees (until now Ms. Anna Fotyga was the head of the SEDE sub-committee on security). Four positions would mean maintaining the quo status of the largest Polish party, although PiS could trade the position of the second vice-president/quaestor with a committee chair.

Will ECR boom?

The probable departure of the Hungarian governmental party Fidesz from the EPP and its possible fusion into the ECR may mean that the group of the Conservatives and Reformists may be entitled to one more committee chairmanship seat, and the EPP might be forced to reduce their aspirations downwards by one, too. Clearly it seems the Hungarians of Fidesz would be virtually taking ‘their’ chairmanship position from the EPP into ECR, should the transfer take place. There are thirteen Fidesz MEPs, and their transfer from the largest group to a smaller group would have a collateral effect: all the ECR positions would be chosen earlier and the right to a position from one group to another.

The Polish radio RMF FM shared a piece of news: PiS is in conversation with Five Star Movement about the M5S future in the Parliament! The options for the Italians are shrinking: the far-right is a no go, the EPP is a no go, the Social Democrats are a no-go, they are not Green, the Liberals said NO two years ago and Macron is heavily criticised by Di Maio. The only options left is GUE and ECR. In the ECR, my interlocutor tells me, the problem are the Brothers of Italy, who have introduced MEPs into the EP. Brothers of Italy have been members of ECR for awhile. Apparently today they are unhappy about M5S joining the group.

Unhappy as they may be, ideology is not a forte of ECR. Strategies of effectiveness might be more important. There are 6 MEPs with Brothers of Italy and 14 MEPs with M5S. Ideally with all of them and Fidesz ECR could grow to some 90 MEPs, outranking the Greens, becoming much larger than the far-right and being more than half of the EPP. Kind of a very different animal than a 5th group of 64 MEPs completely dominated by one ethnicity.

Reality Check

One more unknown: the d’Hondt method is a mathematical formula that is to be confirmed on the democratic agora each time: it will be Parliament plenary where the vote for the president and vice-presidents take place, even if the candidatures will be chosen on behind-the-scenes basis. It is the EP committees that elect their chairmen – and they usually accept the informal agreement resulting from the distribution of seats between the groups.

However, five years ago, the six groups ranging from the leftist GUE to the ECR, agreed that anti-system, anti-European parties should be denied their positions. In this way Mr. Farage’s group did not obtain the position of chairman of the one parliamentary committee it was entitled to (petitions, PETI), and the other six groups made appropriate sllocation among themselves. The chairwomanship was then awarded to the Swedish liberal Ms. Cecilia Wikström.

There were 7 groups at the beginning of the term in 2014.

Will this year be similar? If so, extreme-right groups can expect a parliamentary affront at the very start of the work of the new European Parliament

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