The findings based on the factual analysis of the data are sometimes counter-intuitive to some. Since we started looking at the dynamics in the European Parliament in early 2009 we have revealed a number of state of facts which may have otherwise gone unnoticed. One of these is the fact that, in certain circumstances, it is not only the size of a parliamentary group that is instrumental in pushing through decisions of one’s choice. When none of the political groups holds a majority and the balance of power between the two big blocks at the left and the right is almost equal, the small groups may make the difference. This is particularly the case of the small group(s) who have a high coalition potential, i.e. who find it easy to swing between the center-left and the center-right.
In the case of the European Parliament, this parliamentary group is ALDE. One year after the elections, ALDE seems to have got back in its kingmaker seat at the table of the European Parliament. Although only 4th biggest now, ALDE has won more votes in the EP plenary than any other group. It is closely followed by the two ‘giants’, EPP and S&D, while the rest of the groups are far behind.
This result is made possible by the strategic position that ALDE holds at the center of the political spectrum, which allows it to make coalitions easily with either the S&D or EPP. In fact, ALDE votes in virtually equal proportions alongside EPP or S&D, as the graph below shows.
During the first 6 months of the new EP term, the European People’s Party (EPP) was the group that had won most votes, but in the following months the Liberal-democrats improved their score and surpassed the EPP, against the background of more votes on the environment, civil liberties and gender issues, where ALDE sides more often with the left.
So far, the ALDE group has won 90.16% of the votes, the EPP won 87.02% and the S&D group won 86.82% (out of almost 1.000 votes cast in the EP between July 2014 and June 2015). The scores are very similar to what we’ve seen in the previous EP term.
Read related article: The make-up and break-up of the EU ‘grand governing coalition’
Where does the ALDE group hold the keys to power?
The liberals have won most votes in policy areas like budget (95%) development (94%), civil liberties justice and home affairs (91%), economic and monetary affairs (90%), constitutional and inter-institutional affairs (89%).
However, a key policy area where ALDE won very few votes is internal market and consumer protection (50%), though the sample of votes from this area is yet relatively small (24 votes).
Some important votes have already taken place during the first year of the 8th parliamentary term and in some of these, the Liberals were able to make the difference in the outcome of the vote (i.e. if they had voted the other way, the outcome would have been different too). Here are some examples.
ALDE and the left have sent EU-Canada PNR agreement to the Court of Justice
On security vs. privacy issues, ALDE votes more often alongside the leftist groups in the EP. In November 2014, the European Parliament approved a resolution tabled by the ALDE group asking for the EU-Canada agreement on the transfer of Passenger Name Records (PNR) to be referred to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) for an opinion on whether it is compatible with the EU treaties and Charter of Fundamental Rights before voting on the new agreement.
The resolution passed by 383 votes in favour, 271 against and 47 abstentions. The Liberals were able to secure the support for the proposal from the left-leaning groups (S&D, Greens/EFA, GUE/NGL) and some of the EFDD Members. The EPP and ECR groups decided to vote against the resolution, as they considered that the PNR agreement should be enforced at the soonest, to fight against terrorism and international crime.
ALDE and the center-left pushed for mandatory labelling of meat in ready meals
On Environmental and public health issues as well, the Liberals frequently ally with the Socialists. For instance, ALDE put its weights behind a non-binding resolution saying that the indication of the country of origin should be made mandatory also for meat used as an ingredient in processed foods, like for example lasagna. The text was supported by a center-left coalition made by the S&D group, the Greens and the GUE/NGL groups plus the Conservatives of the ECR and the Liberals. The EPP was split with a majority of its Members voting against. With this text, the MEPs called on the Commission to propose new legislative proposals in order to rebuild the confidence of consumers after the horsemeat scandal of 2013.
The Christian-democrat group decided to vote against the resolution because it was of the opinion that the labelling of country of origin would lead to significant increase in costs production and that these costs would be imposed on consumers.
ALDE and the center-right defeated the call for the promotion of collective bargaining
Another example of the role of kingmaker of the liberal group is the vote on a provision included in a resolution dealing with the employment and social aspects of the Economic Semester procedure. On this occasion, a specific call submitted by the radical-left for the promotion of collective bargaining did not rally enough support, being narrowly voted down by a center-right majority.
Notably, on employment issues the ALDE group usually makes coalitions with the center-right groups EPP (85.11% of the votes) and ECR (70.21%). The same applies to votes related to industry, research and energy issues. In those ones, the Liberals are also more inclined to vote with the conservatives (80%) and the Christian democrats (75%).
ALDE and the center-right make room for deregulation
ALDE supported together with the center-right a statement that backed the European Executive’s approach to withdraw from the legislative process those bills that are considered obsolete or that are suspected to add too much administrative burden on the institutions and businesses operating across the EU. The statement was part of an own-initiative EP report dealing with green growth opportunities for SMEs.
ALDE plus the left-of center groups push through binding energy efficiency target
In June 2015, the leftist groups plus the liberals have been able to push through, by a narrow majority, a paragraph (paragraph 32) stating that “a binding energy efficiency target would be the cost-efficient way to reduce Europe’s energy dependency”. The paragraph recalled that the EP adopted the 2030 three binding targets (energy efficiency target of 40 %, a renewables target of at least 30 % and a greenhouse gas emissions reduction target of at least 40 %). The statement was adopted by 354 votes in favour, 337 against and 8 abstentions.
The paragraph was included in a resolution on the EU energy security strategy which was eventually rejected by the MEPs at the final vote. Consequently, the votes on these separate provisions have only a symbolic meaning.
Liberals’ position is key on decisions regarding shale gas exploitation
In another separate vote on the same text on energy security, center-right groups, including ALDE, succeeded in rejecting a very strong statement against the possibility to exploit shale gas (amendment 6) . The statement said that the Member States should “refrain from any shale gas exploration and exploitation activities”. This was rejected by 289 votes in favour, 388 against and 25 abstentions.
However, another amendment (amendment 1) stating that hydraulic fracturing is not a promising technology and urging Member States not to “authorise operations involving the exploration or extraction of unconventional fuels within the EU until this is proven to be safe for the environment, citizens and workers”, was adopted. On this occasion, most Liberals voted with the left-of-center groups and enabled the adoption of the provision by 338 votes in favour, 319 against and 42 abstentions.
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