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The Game of Seats Edition

20 June 2019

1. Story of the Week

What happened?
 
More like what is happening. The European Parliament has recently seen frantic activity in what can be described as a ‘back to school’ atmosphere. With over 63% newcomers, some political groups have been changing their membership, some are consolidating and others are ‘renewing’ completely. For example, and (without excusing the pun) the party formerly known as ALDE came out last week as ‘Renew Europe’ made up of the ALDE coalition with the addition of Emmanuel’s Macron ‘Renaissance’ and the Romanian USR Plus choosing its parliamentary leader from the latter segment. Former Romanian Prime Minister and European Commissioner Dacian Cioloș will be replacing Guy Verhofstadt after 10 years at the Liberal helm. In other groups, the S&D replaced its German parliamentary leader Udo Bullman for Spanish socialist and misogynist slayer Iratxe García Pérez. The Greens have kept the duo of Ska Keller / Philippe Lamberts on top and the EPP has named Manfred Weber as its party head, as they wait to not give him the Commission presidency. Millennial Marco Zanni will lead the ‘Salvini alliance’ officially known as Identity and Democracy and Ryszard Legutko and Raffaele Fitto will lead the wounded but still standing ECR group.

Why it matters

Aside from providing tribal refuge for MEPs, parliamentary groups are the lifeblood of the European Parliament in its day to day functioning of the legislative process and their respective whips are the target of every influencer and lobbyist in Brussels and beyond. Nothing in Brussels happens in a vacuum. The groups, their presidents and their vice-presidents are an indication as to the split between nationalities of those in power as well as gender and political leanings. This will feed into the consideration of the MEPs as to who takes which Parliamentary committee and why, and this will, in turn, seeps towards the European Parliament presidency and inevitably up to the Commission, and Council presidencies as well. What is absolutely sure, however, is that the EPP hegemony of recent years will cease to exist and that some groups who traditionally never took up tops jobs, see the Greens, are seeing themselves as kingmakers or possibly even kings (or queens) themselves.

The takeaway
 
Much of the conversation of a dual pro versus anti-EU bloc was largely overrated. The Parliament as it stands will, in the next five years, represent one of the most fractured and equally distributed legislatures in recent memory. The transfer of power from the big two (EPP and S&D) will be good for democracy albeit detrimental to pushing forward any one particular agenda. The next Commission therefore will have the unenviable task to navigate and reconcile the many interests on offer and convince, sometimes strange bedfellows at a time when the EU needs plenty unequivocal stances on a broad range of economic, foreign policy and internal policies in an ever more fragmented world context. This will be firmly set in the minds of Donald Tusk and the member states today and tomorrow as they discuss the future of the top jobs in the Commission in the EU Council summit. Don’t hold your breath for the 2nd July target, however, when the new European Parliament meets officially for its first plenary to debate who should be next President of the Commission.

2. Tweets of the Week

3. Numbers of the Week

76

The number of MEPs that signed a letter in favour of Catalan MEPs joining the European Parliament. This comes as one of the MEPs-elect the former Catalan President, Carles Puigdemont, was prevented from taking office. In Spain, MEPs are required to take an in-person oath to the Constitution before taking up their role as MEPs and, in the case of Mr. Puigdemont, his self-imposed exile in Belgium has prevented him from attending and his appeal for an attorney to do it for him has been denied. This follows an appeal from fellow separatist leader and MEP elect, Oriol Junqueras, that was denied after he appealed for temporary leave from his custody to swear the oath as he stands trial on charges of sedition and breaching the constitution he is now meant to swear by. Go figure.

2050

The year by which a majority of EU member states aim to be carbon neutral. Up to 22 member states have added their names to the carbon-neutral initiative that could be approved in this week’s EU Council summit. The numbers pale in comparison to the only 8 member states that signed up to the pledge in a summit in March and highlights how the upper echelons have taken note the recent ‘Green Wave’ at the European elections, a mandate for ambitious climate policies. This includes Germany, whose instinct to protect its car industry put them off at first, seem to have come round to the idea, no doubt after seeing their own Greens gain from the incumbent parties.

3

The number of EU member states that signed a deal to develop the next generation of European fighter planes. In what was lauded as a breakthrough in a European Defence Union, France, Germany, and Spain signed the pact that would see the state of the art fighter jet take flight in 2040, which in political and military terms is a lifetime. Nonetheless, the announcements come with the backdrop of increased defence spending in the US and China and the three state cooperation will allow the project to access funding from the European Defence Fund which (even though France will be footing most of the bill).

 

A Message From Our Partners

The EFF — European Future Forum held its first general assembly at the European Parliament in Brussels, bringing together a large variety of NGOs and civil society organisations to share their projects with each other, workshop new initiatives and improve their communication skills and methodologies.
 
The EFF is the first European Communication and Project Development Network. It is open to any organisation and individual. For more information, visit their website.

4. Quotes of the Week

“The European elections were not free of disinformation.”

An understatement from Commissioner for Justice, Věra Jourová. A preliminary report published by the European Commission found that Russian linked actors intended to suppress voter turnout although they could not find a specific cross-border attempt to target the European elections. This is despite the efforts made by Facebook and other social media platforms, the former blocking over 1,700 pages, groups, and accounts in the first three months of this year. Despite this, over 1,000 cases of interference were found since January meaning that the EU is considered the political interference big leagues for Russian trolls. Compliment accepted.

“Our focus is to keep the agreement in place”

The words of High Representative Federica Mogherini remarking on the threatened Iran nuclear deal. The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, signed in 2015, was a magnum opus of international diplomacy led by the European Union and agreed to by a rogue Iran and a pragmatic Obama administration. Fast forward four years, Donald Trump is president, the US has withdrawn its support for the nuclear deal and in recent weeks tensions have been escalating in the Strait of Hormuz putting the world on alert. Now Iran is threatening to breach the agreement unless the US stands down putting the EU firmly as the adult in a potentially catastrophic kindergarten.

“Albania is not ready to join the EU”

The words of Edi Rama, Prime Minister of Albania. As the EU looks towards the next batch of accession countries to fill the Brexit void, the Albanian leader came out against membership until the country upgrades its political system. This has come about from the confusion and mayhem in organising the next elections which have seen multiple parties manipulate the situation. Rama’s comments will have some sympathy by some in the EU who want to curtail any new memberships until longstanding issues of candidate countries, notably Albania, North Macedonia, Bosnia Herzegovina, Kosovo, and Serbia, are resolved. Not to mention, Turkey.

5. Video of the Week

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