Negotiating the EU’s future

Article written by James Azzopardi – Executive, EU Policy and Legislation, MEUSAC
Published in The Malta Independent – 08.06.19

Being the only European Union institution whose members are directly chosen by EU citizens, the European Parliament plays an important role in decision-making in the EU. While the European Commission is the only institution which can draft proposals for new laws and policies, the European Parliament may approve, amend or reject these proposals, together with the Council of Ministers. However, this was not always the case.

After starting as a mere multi-lingual talking shop, the European Parliament gained legislative powers and significance with each treaty, the latest being the Lisbon Treaty of 2007. As its powers increased, so did the interest of the Heads of State or Government, and this year’s European Parliament Election and its immediate aftermath embodies this aspect.

Judging by how many EU citizens voted in the elections (more than 50%), one could say that the European Parliament’s campaign encouraging EU citizens to vote and take an active part in the run-up to the European elections, was relatively successful. In fact, these elections resulted in the highest turnout in the last quarter of a century for the European Parliament.

While the contained but still significant surge in votes for the eurosceptic far-right has sometimes overshadowed the support for the Greens/European Free Alliance, the former arguably came at the expense of the more established Socialist and Democrats (S&D) and the European People’s Party (EPP). It therefore may be understandable to note that the media is mainly focusing on this aspect of the total result. The overall result has however obfuscated the immediate aftermath of the election.

Currently, elected MEPs are discussing and negotiating the formation of political groups, namely the structure of the institution itself (according to the Parliament’s rules of procedure, “a political group shall consist of at least 25 Members elected in at least seven Member States”).

The new make-up of the Parliament means and will mean that the ongoing negotiations between MEPs, Heads of State or Government and current EU Leaders for the EU’s top jobs will carry different political tinges. So much so that, following the May 28 informal meeting of the Heads of State or Government and with negotiations still underway at the time of writing, there does not seem to be a clear-cut frontrunner as far as the European Parliament’s presidency goes.

While in the past this process was relatively straightforward, this year’s complex results mean that a broader coalition will be needed to form a majority among the pro-EU political groups due to the fact that no political group managed to win a majority in Parliament. Furthermore, this new demographic of the European Parliament might challenge the monopoly that the EPP currently holds on the other two top jobs of the EU: the presidencies of the Commission and the European Council.

The election will therefore not only have affected the Presidency of the European Parliament, but it will also have an impact on who is likely to become the Commission president.

As per the spitzenkandidat system, the leader of the political group that commands the largest coalition after the election is likely to become the Commission president. While the EPP’s Manfred Weber is at an advantage with regards to the Commission presidency due to the EPP gaining the majority of the House’s seats (179), potential coalitions between other political groups (namely a socialist-liberal-green coalition) can tip the scales.

Despite all of this, it still remains to be seen whether this system will actually be applied in the selection itself, as it seems that the EU28 leaders are still settling on the ‘qualities’ which such a President should have, and have recently hinted towards steering away from such a process. Concomitantly, EU28 leaders are entertaining the idea of nominating non-spitzenkandidaten such as the conservative chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier, and the Danish liberal Margrethe Vestager.

However, one must keep in mind that, as stated in the beginning, the Parliament has become more than just a talking shop, and as the voice of the citizens of the EU, it has the last say on the approval of the European Commission’s new Presidency and formation.

It still remains to be seen who will ‘win’ the race for the EU’s top jobs, and it will be interesting to see how things will pan out. However, one thing is crystal clear. The persons who will be approved for these jobs will take the EU’s helm at a time when the Union, as shown by the election results, is at an existential crossroads, full of challenges but also rife with opportunities.

« Back