The 751 newly-elected MEPs have had their debut in Strasbourg last week, where they attended the first plenary session of the 2019-2024 parliamentary legislature. This session, together with the upcoming one in the week starting on 15 July, have the main purpose of setting up the European Parliament and get it ready to work smoothly from September, after the summer recess.
A core responsibility of the MEPs includes electing a European Parliament President, 14 Vice-Presidents, 5 Quaestors, and establishing the composition of the parliamentary Committees. Parliamentary groups had already been announced and communicated to the outgoing President, Antonio Tajani, ahead of the plenary meeting. On 16 July, MEPs will have to confirm or reject the candidate for the European Commission Presidency, Ursula von der Leyen.
Parliamentary groups: the old, the new and the undefined
After the results of the European elections came in, MEPs started to negotiate their membership and affiliation to European political families. The ones below are the formations that have emerged so far.
1) European People’s Party (EPP)
President: Manfred Weber (DE)
The EPP is once again the largest political group in the European Parliament. Nonetheless, these elections weakened its position, as 34 seats were lost together with the EP Presidency, previously held by Antonio Tajani. Weber’s bid to the post of European Commission President also failed. Hungarian Prime Minister Orbán's Fidesz (13 seats), whilst being suspended from the EPP alliance of parties, has ratified its membership to the conservative group in the EPP. A Fidesz MEP, Lívia Járóka, has also been elected Vice-President.
2) Progressive Alliance of Socialists & Democrats (S&D)
President: García Pérez Iratxe (ES)
As the outgoing president Udo Bullman did not run again, Ms Iratxe emerged as the most likely to take his place in the new legislature, and was indeed confirmed. While a huge loss of socialist seats was projected ahead of the elections, the delayed withdrawal of the UK from the EU and better-than-expected results in countries like the Netherlands helped to contain the damage. Further, Italian socialist Sassoli was elected President of the European Parliament, adding an ace to the deck of cards that the S&D group will be able to play in the upcoming years.
3) Renew Europe
President: Dacian Ciolos (RO)
The liberal group brings together, amongst others, the members of the former Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE), Macron’s La République En Marche (the largest national delegation in the group), the U.K. Liberal Democrats, the Czech ANO, and the Dutch People's Party for Freedom and Democracy. From the first plenary, it emerged that the liberals were not able to agree with the Greens to support each other’s candidate for the Vice-Presidency of the Commission.
President: Ska Keller & Philippe Lambert
Riding on the “Green Wave” registered at the European elections, the Greens/European Free Alliance rose to the position of fourth-biggest group in the European Parliament. They enjoyed notable successes especially in Germany, France and the UK.
5) Identity & Democracy (ID)
President: Marco Zanni (IT)
The new far-right grouping, led by Salvini and Le Pen, enjoyed a surge of 37 seats, and it replaces the former Europe of Nations and Freedom (ENF) group. Parties like Italy’s League, France’s National Rally, the Alternative for Germany, Austria's Freedom Party, the Finns party, the Danish People’s Party and Estonia's EKRE joined the ranks. Talks have been ongoing with Farage to persuade his Brexit Party to join, but Farage
President: Ryszard Legutko & Raffaele Fitto
Whilst on the surface the situation has not changed dramatically for the ECR having only lost 15 seats since the last legislature, the reality on the ground is very different. Dropping down to 62 seats from 77 in combination with gains for Renew Europe, the Greens/EFA and Identity and Democracy (former ENF) means that the ECR has dropped from 3rd to 6th place in order of the largest parliamentary groupings. The collapse of the UK Conservative party from 19 to a mere 4 seats has certainly contributed to the weaker position the ECR finds itself in. Whilst the ECR’s priorities of ensuring subsidiarity and reducing the transfer of powers from the Member States to the European Institutions remains consistent, with a weakened parliamentary cohort their task becomes all the more difficult. This is clear to see as they were unable to win one of the 14 available positions for Vice-Presidents of the European Parliament and only secured the position of Chair of one Committee, albeit an influential one of that - the Budget Committee.
President: Martin Schirdewan
Down 11 seats from the last legislature, GUE/NGL is the smallest group in the European Parliament. Their priorities range from environmental concerns, to fiscal alleviation, to migration and asylum policy. Some of these might be channeled through the Committee whose chairmanship is held by the left, i.e. the Regional Development (REGI).
A considerable number of MEPs have yet to decide what political group to become a member of, or have decided to ride solo because of divergence of views. Their status as non-aligned means less access to funding from the Parliament, fewer committee posts allocated and shorter speaking time.
New groups can always be communicated to the President of the European parliament during the legislature; to obtain such recognition, a group must put together at least 25 MEPs coming from at least 7 different Member States.
Members of the former EFDD group are amongst the non-aligned, as they lost members, including from the French Les Patriotes party, and could not reconstitute. MEPs from the Brexit Party and the 5 Star Movement who were invited to join the far-right Identity & Democracy group, but declined.
The official numerical strength of the Committees in the European Parliament was also approved in the constituent plenary session, on 3 July.
Amongst others, the ITRE Committee is made up of 73 members, IMCO has 45, CULT has 31, and JURI, with only 25 members, is the smallest one. he Committee chairmen were appointed at the first seating of each Committee on 10 July. You can see them listed below:
The EPP managed to secure the chairmanship of 8 Committees, including culture, industry and foreign affairs committee, while the S&D have won the civil liberties and economic affairs.
Some candidates from the far-right populist Identity & Democracy group had been proposed; nonetheless, MEPs to voted against Eurosceptic MEPs. This so-called cordon sanitaire generally worked, as members of Identity & Democracy were voted down in the Committees where they were running for the chief post, in the AGRI and JURI Committee amongst others.
New European Parliament President
David-Maria Sassoli (S&D, IT)
The Italian former TV presenter won 345 votes in the second round of balloting, securing the position over contendants Jan Zahradil (ECR), Ska Keller (Greens), and Sira Rego (GUE/NGL). A member of the Italian Democratic Party (S&D), he was boosted to the new position by the recommendation made by European leaders that the Presidency of the European Parliament should be awarded to the socialist group for the first two and a half years to then be passed over to a member of the conservative group.
Nonetheless, the name briefly seen as the favoured was that of Sergei Stanishev, who did not submit his official candidacy; his Bulgarian nationality would have played well in rebalancing the criticised western Europe-dominated nominations for the EU top jobs.
Sassoli spent the majority of his career as a journalist in Italy, where he advanced his career within Rai, the national public broadcaster. He joined politics in 2009, when he ran with the Democratic Party for the European elections; the upcoming one will be his third mandate at the European Parliament.
New European Parliament Presidents
Together with the President, the parliamentary assembly also chose 14 Vice-Presidents. Their role will be to replace the President when necessary, and to take part in the European Parliament Bureau, which oversees administrative processes within the institution. The number of Vice-Presidents allocated to each political group is proportional to the number of seats
Silva Pereira (PT)
In the earliest aftermath of the elections, and alongside with negotiations between political groups, the European Parliament agreed on the priorities that will rank high on its agenda in the upcoming five years. Five corresponding working groups were created to coordinate and advance the works, made up of coordinators designated by the political groups.
1) Environment, climate change & other green issues
Siegfried Muresan, Peter Liese
Kathleen Van Brempt, Eric Andrieu
Pascal Canfin, Chris Davies
Bas Eickhout, Yannick Jadot
2) Economic and fiscal policies, trade
Esther de Lange, Jose Manuel Fernandes
Roberto Gualtieri, Nicolas Schmit
Nils Torvalds, Luis Garicano
3) Digitalisation, AI
Mairead McGuinness, Jan Olbrycht
Miapetra Kumpula-Natri, Agnes Jongerius
Dita Charanzova, Nicola Beer
Tilly Metz, Rivasi Michèle
4) Rule of law, borders and migration
Esteban Gonzalez Pons, Roberta Metsola
Claude Moraes, Fajon Tanja
Malik Azmani, Dragos Tudorache
Terry Reinke, Ernest Urtasun
5) Europe in the world
Arnaud Danjean, David McAllister
Bernd Lange, Javi Lopez, Jeppe Kofod
Hilde Vautmans, Urmas Paet
Heidi Hautala, Reinhard Bütikofer