There are 14 vice-presidents of the European Parliament. Elected in three rounds on Wednesday, here they are:
The natural thing for the European Parliament in choosing its vice-president is to do so by a consensus between the political groups. Except for, there is no consensus in this new European Parliament.
There are two important factors. First, the far-right Identity and Democracy Group is hostile to the European integration and as such, other political groups have proposed to employ the ‘cordon sanitaire’ principle in order to prevent the ID politicians from obtaining senior positions in the European Parliament. For more on the cordon sanitaire read on Euractiv here.
Hence the ID candidates for the vice-presidency, Laura Huhtasaari and Mara Bizzotto are voted down. Ms Bizzotto is the group’s only candidate by the time the second vote is to take place. In the first vote 11 vice-presidents were elected.
Second, the large pool of the non-inscrits, or the non attached members. The Brexiteers and the Italian M5S do not belong to any of the groups, hence they are not bound by any political agreements. They freeride. The candidacy of the Italian MEP Fabio Castaldo is announced – to be a candidate you need support of any of 38 MEPs.
The 14th Vice-President
By the time the second vote takes place, there are three slots and five candidates: three of the smaller groups, Greens, GUE and ECR, and two ‘anti-system’ candidates, of ID and a non-attached MEP. It is clear who should win.
The outcome of the second vote is positive for the Green MEP Mr Kolaja and for the GUE MEP Mr Papadimoulis, but not for Mr Krasnodębski of ECR, who already in the second vote scores fewer votes (261) than Mr Castaldo (283). Still with Ms Bizzotto on the ballot (142) there is a need for the third vote.
Then the third vote takes place. The choice is clear, between Mr Krasnodębski of ECR and Mr Castaldo of non-attached. Only 350 MEPs vote, which already indicates that the result might be distorted. And they are!
Who is absent? The EPP, with less than 50% of its members actually taking the task of voting. The other groups’ participation is fine, between 65% and 82%. Why is EPP absent? Ursula von der Leyen is in town meeting the Parliament’s biggest group.
The outcome of the vote is devastating for the ECR candidate: 248 for the Five Star MEP and only 85 for the PiS MEP.
The fallout of the loss
Mr Krasnodębski is disillusioned. He tweets “This is how the rules and commitments are respected in the EP”:
Other PiS MEPs are even more critical. MEP Mazurek writes that the parliamentary democracy rules were broken. She continues that it is a payback for the European Council meeting.
She alludes that the EP Left did not vote for Mr Krasnodębski because of PiS allegedly shooting down the candidacy of Mr Timmermans for the European Commission Presidency. Mr Szymon Szynkowski vel Sęk, deputy Foreign Minister continues along those lines the next day: “the results of this vote and in general the European Parliament votes are a sort of reflection of not fully satisfied moods of certain member states”.
For Mr Czarnecki MEP this is an anti-Polish vote as he uses a strong word of “revenge” for the last European Council. Mr Czarnecki was once a VP but lost his seat because of his non-parliamentary talk last term. Mr Krasnodębski replaced him.
Is Mr Krasnodębski loss due to others disrespect of the rules?
Three factors come in for his loss. First is the evening meeting between Ursula von der Leyen and the European People’s Party. This is why so few EPP politicians are actually in the room. Do they make a difference? Clearly, with them around Mr Krasnodębski was only 20 votes short of Mr Castaldo in the second round. Without them Mr Castaldo is the winner.
Second, where is the ID? The far-right keeps on putting empty votes into the voting booths. Their votes do not count, hence there is no support for Mr Krasnodębski. Without the ID presence the Parliament is not divided evenly right and left, there is a strong left-wing majority. With the EPP largely absent, the effect is even stronger. Suddenly it is easier for the non-attached coming from a political party which tried to join the GUE, ALDE and ECR over last months.
In the choice between two former vice-presidents Mr Castaldo has the upper hand. His way to this vice-presidency goes through years of coming out of a cordon sanitaire of the last Parliament. Back in 2014 the EFDD, the then-group of Mr Castaldo, is subject of a cordon sanitaire of the mainstream groups. Fabio Castaldo takes a low profile, commits himself to work in his committees, where he takes shadow rapporteurships seriously and is even entrusted with a report: on Tunisia, in the Foreign Affairs committee, in 2016. Quite an achievement. On that basis Mr Castaldo competes in November 2017 in a by-election to fill in the empty seat of the Vice President of the European Parliament. He wins against the German liberal candidate Ms Gesine Meissner 325 to 238.
Mr Castaldo is known in the Parliament and liked in the chamber, despite his lack of a political affiliation. He is able to win support of various groups and other nationalities than his own. Clearly the personality matters also in July 2019.
Third is the fact that 61% of MEPs are new to the chamber. Before the votes begin Ms Neena Gill, a Social-Democrat from the UK, asks, “We should have an opportunity to know who the vice-president candidates are. Could we at least have a short statement from them as to why they are standing? I know the candidates from my group but I don’t know all the candidates from the other groups.” This proves impossible as the Conference of Presidents decided against presentation of such candidacies, responds the new President Sassoli. Watch this interaction here.
What does it tell us? Many MEPs receive a voting list with all the candidates and their affiliations. No information about who they are and what do they stand for. Hence the information about Mr Krasnodębski is simply his name, group affiliation (ECR) and the country he is from (Poland). Pretty much everybody knows that all ECR members from Poland are Polish ruling party MEPs, Law and Justice (PiS).
Hence the choice MEPs have is simple: for Mr nice guy from an unpopular party, but largely not a threat, or for Mr who is a representative of an effectively anti-European ruling party back home. And the left-wing leaning House made the choice.
European Parliament is not the representation of states. It is the representation of the people, of the citizens of the European Union. When will the Law and Justice politicians learn this obvious fact?
The European Council did not elect the President of the European Parliament. The European Parliament did. In fact, the EP chose a different person that the European Council hoped for. A signal that the appointment of Ms von der Leyen may not be as smooth?
Hence Law and Justice is wrong when they link the results of the last European Council and the Castaldo vote. They should link the performance of Law and Justice in the Warsaw government with the popularity of Law and Justice candidates. They should link the popularity of PiS with the PiS performance in the European Parliament. On the very first day of the new Parliament two PiS politicians provoked others by sitting during the Ode to Joy performance.
The pro-Castaldo vote is not an anti-Polish vote. It is an anti-Law and Justice vote. Clearly it is useful to invest into good working relationships across political parties. Timing of the vote, the negative perception of PiS inside the Parliament and the positive offer of Mr Castaldo resulted with the outcome.
Mr Castaldo is the 14th Vice-President of the European Parliament and Mr Krasnodębski is not. A consolation prize for PiS and a proof the ECR is not a subject of the cordon sanitaire? Mr Karol Karski, a fellow Pole from ECR, is the Parliament’s Questor.