Will the three major parties retain control of the new EU Parliament?

European Parliament, 7th Parliamentary Term. Conference of the Presidents, EP President Martin Schulz presiding. (EP Audiovisual Services 13/03/2014)

European Parliament, 7th Parliamentary Term. Conference of the Presidents, EP President Martin Schulz presiding. (EP Audiovisual Services 13/03/2014)

Say farewell to the European Parliament you knew and be prepared to work with the new legislature to be constituted after the elections of 22-25 May. This is what the Brussels’s bureaucracy must be thinking these days. The composition of the new Parliament remains a puzzler. If the tendencies the voters have shown in national elections are to be repeated on the European level, the new house will be full of extremist and Eurosceptic MEPs.

After the last amendment of the Treaty of the European Union, the EU’s constitution has greatly upgraded the role of the Parliament and the ‘trilateral’ agreement (Parliament, Council and Commission) is a standard procedure in almost all legislative acts of the Union. Without the consent of the Parliament, the EU’s law making machine is blocked. However, the rise of Eurosceptic right-wing political parties like Nigel Farage’s UKIP in Britain, Marine Le Pen’s Front National in France and the Fidesz party of Viktor Orbán in Hungary may derail the traditional cooperative attitude of the legislature vis-à-vis the other two decision-making bodies of the EU, the Commission and the member states’ Council.

Parliamentary tradition

Tradition also has it that the major legislative initiatives are finally voted for in the Parliament with large majorities, after long negotiations with the Council and the Commission. During the ‘trilateral’ procedure, the initial texts proposed by the Commission are taking their final shape through dense deliberations between the two legislative bodies, the Parliament and the Council. However, it’s most probable the large majorities in favour of the new laws could be a thing of the past in the new Parliament.

Those large majorities were attained through the positive attitude towards the entire EU project included in the ideology and the political practice of the three major European Parliament parties, the European People’s Party, the Party of European Socialists and the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe. The determination of those political forces to arrive at an agreement with the Council is at the heart of the overall success of the EU edifice. If those three parties appear weakened after the 22-25 May elections the large majorities will be a memory from the past.

The three major political groups

In the presently dissolving Parliament, the three major political groups number 554 MEPs in a house of 766. This is a 72% solid majority rendering the minor parties presence almost ornamental. Understandably, party discipline is not meticulously observed and there is at times national allegiance by MEPs, but overall, in major issues like the European Banking Union, the three parties proved to be the major power houses not only in Parliament but in the long and difficult negotiations with the Council of member states.

In any case, the legislative work accomplished by the present European Parliament is impressive. It has completed the final session of its seventh term, passing 70 acts. Over the past five years, Parliament adopted 970 legislative acts. The new, eighth, Parliament will be constituted on 1 July, after elections held from 22 to 25 May. Before then, a number of other events will take place.

One month to go

On 15 May, a presidential debate with the five leading candidates for the presidency of the European Commission will be held in Brussels, organized by the European Broadcasting Union (Eurovision). The debate, will last from 9 pm to 10.30 pm, and will feature Jean-Claude Juncker for the European People’s Party, Martin Schulz for the Party of European Socialists, Guy Verhofstadt for the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe, Ska Keller for the Green Party and Alexis Tsipras for the Party of the European Left.

On 27 May, the current Conference of Presidents – the EP president and the leaders of the political groups – will convene in order to give a first assessment of the election results. EP President Martin Schulz will inform Herman Van Rompuy, the European Council President, of the Conference of Presidents’ findings. The European Council – heads of states or governments – will meet later that day and start deliberations on the person to head the new European Commission as of January 2015. Presumably, it will be one of the candidates of the three major parties, which are also expected to retain control of the new EU Parliament.

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