While Westminster is still to be roused from its long summer slumber, the European Parliament is back at work. New (and returning) MEPs hit the ground running after the Euro elections in June. Already, new political groups have been formed, senior posts agreed, new Rapporteurs appointed to carry on legislation left over from the previous parliament – and last weeks’ last minute approval of President Barosso for third term at the Commission. However, the real work is yet to start.
So what can we expect from the new Parliament? A study by LSE Professor Simon Hix attempts to give a flavour of what the political dynamics will look like. Written for the Swedish Institute for European Policy Studies, “Return of the Grand Coalition” says that because of the success of the smaller parties, neither the centre-right or the centre-left could have the strength to dominate the new Parliament.
He says that the proportional increase in the seat shares of the smaller political groups has come "at the expense of the three main groups – the European People’s Party (EPP), the Socialists and Democrats (S&D) and the centrist Alliance of Liberals and Democrats (ALDE). The EPP have gone down "from 36.7% to 36.0%, the Socialists from 27.6% to 25.0%, and ALDE from 12.7% to 11.4%" of total seats.
Although the Centre Right have fared better than the Centre Left, it is the groups to the right of the EPP that have done much better this time round – at the expense of the Big 3. The European Conservatives and Reformists (including UK Conservatives) have 7.5% of the proportional make-up of the House.
Because the UK Conservatives have defected from the EPP to the new ECR, the German CDU/CSU delegation will dominate but the Italian, French and Polish MEPs will be more influential in the new group than in the old group.The Germans will also dominate the S&D and (along with the British) the ALDE Groups.
I remember when UK’s Labour delegation was larger than the German SPD delegation – in fact it was the largest single group in the Parliament – some 62 MEPs out of 84 UK MEPs (its now down to 11). Yet even with 62 MEPs, the German delegation managed to get its way every time – because of internal faction-fighting in the EPLP (For a day-to-day account of the EPLP’s “glory” days, read the new book by former Labour MEP, Anita Pollack).
Professor Hix says that what is striking about the political groups in the last parliament was the high level of cohesion – higher than that for Democrats or Republicans in the US – quite remarkable when you think of all the nationalities – and various national pressures involved.
Already we are seeing the Franco-German axis making a come-back. This is mostly because the largest group - the EPP has no UK members and the UK's interests - particularly in financial services-where the French and Germans from both left and right want to see more regulation while the UK (again from left and right) want to see - on the whole - a light touch approach. My guess is that we will see the EPP and ALDE and S&D work together more than before - and smaller parties frozen out. It will in some respects resemble the Grand Coalition that has kept Angela Merckel in power for the last four years.