The new European Parliament, to hold its first sitting on July 1 to 3 2014, will have seven political groups, with the centre-right European People’s Party again the largest – and with plans among some far-right parties for an eighth group of their own having come to naught.
Elected in the 28 EU member states between May 22 and 25, most of the 751 MEPs taking up their seats have been absorbed into one of the seven groups. Formation of a group requires at least 25 MEPs from seven different EU member states.
Already, however keenly the main political rivals of the centre-right and the left fought in the campaign past, deals are beginning to work in the customary EU fashion.
On June 25, it emerged that the EPP and the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D) group had reached a deal on the election of the European Parliament President, one of the four major posts in EU institutions and one of the first orders of business for the new European Parliament.
As announced on the EPP website, the first two-and-a-half of the five-year term of the European Parliament will see a President from the S&D and the latter half of the term a presiding officer from the EPP.
The S&D candidate and thus the new European Parliament President will be Martin Schulz, reprising his role after his defeat in the race to the next European Commission President, a role expected to go to the EPP’s Jean-Claude Juncker.
Schulz becoming EP President will open a vacancy for the leadership of the 191-member S&D group, which could be taken by Bulgarian Sergei Stanishev, leader of the Party of European Socialists.
The 221-member EPP group is headed by Germany’s Manfred Weber, a third-term European Parliament member who was a member of its constitutional affairs committee in the previous EP.
It was Weber who led negotiations with the S&D group, saying at the start on June 22, “in the next five years, the EU has to build the right framework for growth and jobs. In order to do so, we need a stable majority in the European Parliament able to deliver real results”.
The deal announced on June 25 was a first step in this, Weber said that day, saying that the groups had held “early discussions” on common ground on a majority to implement reforms for growth and jobs.
Earlier, he emphasised that the EPP group wanted “a lasting solution to the crisis which is not based on the policies of the past. We will not accept changes to the Stability and Growth Pact. This is our red line”.
Now in third place in terms of size among the European Parliament groups is the 70-member European Conservatives and Reformists, led by London UK MEP Syed Kamall and which originally arose largely out of a Tory split from the EPP group five years ago.
The ECR group is something of a mixed bag, including not only the populist Bulgaria Without Censorship MEP Nikolai Barekov (but not Angel Dzhambazki, the nationalist VMRO member also elected on the BWC ticket) as well as – controversially – Germany’s anti-euro AfD, whose signature issue has been its campaign against bailouts for economically-stricken EU members such as Greece. Reports highlighted that the admission of the AfD to the ECR was a sour note in relations between Tory leader and UK prime minister David Cameron and CDU/CSU leader and German chancellor Angela Merkel, for whom AfD is somewhat of an annoyance.
Kamall, on being elected ECR group leader, said that he wanted to build on the successes of the group, which he saw as in areas such as the budget, fisheries and flexibility in the EU Banking Union, “and see the ECR playing an active, pivotal and constructive role in the parliament to deliver our agenda of a more decentralised and flexible EU that focuses its efforts on economic reform, opening markets and providing opportunities for businesses and entrepreneurs”.
Fourth-largest among the groups is the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe, with 67 MEPs, which re-elected Guy Verhofstadt as its leader and took in new member parties ANO of the Czech Republic, UpyD and Ciudadanos from Spain and MPT from Portugal.
The fifth and sixth groups, respectively, are the 52-MEP European United Left/Nordic Green Left, chaired by Germany’s Gabriele Zimmer, who has held that post since 2012, and the 50-MEP Greens/European Free Alliances, co-chaired by Philippe Lamberts of Belgium and Rebecca Harms of Germany.
Much media attention has been given, before and after the European Parliament elections, to what has become the smallest group, at 48 MEPs: the Europe of Freedom and Democracy group, co-led by Ukip’s Nigel Farage and Italy’s David Borrelli.
Euroskeptic Ukip is in partnership in this group with Italian Bepp Grillo’s Five-Star Movement, Lithuania’s Order and Justice and the far-right Sweden Democrats, the last-mentioned allegedly founded as a white supremacist group but whose two MEPs reportedly were required to state in writing that they were distancing themselves from the party’s past.
Farage’s group also took in Joelle Bergeron, sitting as an independent after quitting Marine Le Pen’s far-right Front National.
Le Pen’s team failed to meet the deadline for formation of a group, although her spokesperson said in a Twitter message that, “we and our allies will build a solid and coherent political group later”. For Le Pen, the reverse is significant given the overall role and benefits for formal groups in the European Parliament.
European Parliament political groups play an important role in setting the European Parliament’s agenda, the allocation of speaking time for debates as well as choosing the EP President, vice presidents, committee chairpersons and the MEPs to be in charge of steering new legislative proposals through the European Parliament.
Groups get official support including each one being provided with a secretariat to take care of its internal organisation, as well as large sums in funding.