With the passing of yesterday’s deadline (24 June) for the final submission of group make-up, the European Parliament can now get on with the business of electing its president; a senior MEP who presides over plenary sessions, and represents the institution on the world stage.
Traditionally, who gets the post is determined by the two largest groups, inevitably the centre-right EPP and the centre-left S&D, agreeing to share it between them, with one group representative holding the position for a two-and-a-half year period.
While this system has its discontents, it is never seriously challenged, and therefore has become the accepted norm.
In a further display of bi-partisanship, the EPP and the S&D have already began talks aimed at “building an agenda” for the next five-year legislative term. This is not in itself unusual, but is being trumpeted louder this time around – some are referring to it as a “grand coalition”. With record numbers of populists and Eurosceptic parties in the house, the centre is coalescing, trying to remain strong in the face of growing opposition.
There is added talk that the centre-left candidate, Martin Schulz, with the blessing of the EPP, will serve the full five years as president, a position he held for the second half of the last legislature. His party, the SDP in Germany, has dropped demands that Schulz be nominated as the country’s next commissioner, while across the EU centre-left governments have come out in support of the EPP’s candidate for commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker. There is mounting speculation that the S&D group, and Schulz, will be given a reward in parliament.
British MEP Sajjad Karim, believes Schulz is guaranteed a “re-coronation”. He is the official candidate for parliament president for the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) group. He has been attempting to lobby MEPs to break ranks and ignore group positions while choosing a president. At a press conference in Brussels on 25 June, he was not shy of calling the system a “stitch-up.”
“Many members will be told that the deal has already been done, and that is how it will be. But is that really so?” he said.
“It frustrates our citizens when we talk of openness and transparency” when electing the commission presidency, he said. “But when it comes to our own presidency, we have for them only a closed-shop”.
Karim has asked MEPs to unite behind his candidacy “but this hasn’t happened.” Other groups, the left-wing GUE and the Greens, are also putting candidates forward.
Electing a parliament president “can no longer be done in a back room deal,” he says. “Citizens are deeply frustrated with us. The old ways, of deals behind closed doors, cannot happen any more”. Parliamentary procedures, he said, deserve to be carried out within a “normal system”.
The new parliament president, and 14 vice-presidents, will voted during next week’s plenary session in Strasbourg. These latter posts, along with committee and delegation chairs are determined using the complicated D’Hondt system, based on group numbers – the bigger the group, the more it qualifies for the top jobs. This is bad news for the far right; despite expectations, Marine Le Pen failed to secure a group, meaning, not only a curtailment of speaking time and influential jobs, but money as well – around €22 million.