European Commission took another beating from the Parliament: its definition of endocrine disruptors gets rejected
The frustration of the bureaucrats in DG Health and Food Safety must be reaching a new high, as the elected EU politicians block their agenda once again. After being slapped with the rejection of their plans to approve a new genetically modified soybean, the Parliamentarians had an issue with the Executive’s definition of endocrine disruptors too.
A slim majority made up of the left-leaning groups, as well as the liberals of ALDE and nationalists of ENF, rejected a proposal by the European Commission aiming at defining the scientific criteria for the determination of endocrine disruptors. The opposing camp managed to reject the Commission’s definition by only 13 votes, as a qualified majority was required to block the decision by the executive. According to the opponents, the definition proposed by the Commission was too narrow to be acceptable. The opposing coalition was successful due to 13 members of the EPP and 15 members of ECR, who switched sides and delivered the necessary votes.
On the other hand, some of the Romanian, Polish and Bulgarian socialists switched sides the other way around, ie. sided with the conservatives and the Commission, but they were simply not enough to reach the blocking threshold. Notably, the President of the Party of European Socialists, Bulgarian Sergei Stanishev, also supported the definition by the Commission, thus being in minority within his own political family.
It is not uncommon for the EP to block initiatives of the environmental arm of the Executive, as the majority in the Parliament is more precautionary-oriented than the Commission, a trend predicted by VoteWatch already at the start of this parliamentary term. However, as the EP is very divided on these topics, majorities are slim and a few swing votes (or absences) usually make the difference.
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EPPO gets the green light from MEPs, but 8 countries are not participating
More than 70% of MEPs gave their consent to launching an enhanced cooperation for the establishment of the European Public Prosecutor Office, which will be in charge of investigate and prosecute some EU-fraud and other crimes affecting the Union’s financial interests. However, eight countries decided not to participate: Denmark, Hungary, Ireland, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland, Sweden, United Kingdom. They might decide to join the framework in any moment (such a decision will depend on the future political developments in these countries). In the case of Sweden, there seems to be a very low support for the new body at the moment: only the Swedish ALDE members gave their consent to the establishment of the EPPO, whereas the other Swedish MEPs either voted against or abstained.
S&D and Greens/EFA are the winners of this plenary session among the political groups
This was another successful session for the left-wing groups, as S&D and Greens/EFA won the most votes in the EP plenary (93%). They are closely followed by ALDE/ADLE (92% rate of success) and GUE-NGL (88%). Although the EPP also won a high number of votes, the center-right took a serious beating on gender-related issues (its winning rate on gender issues was only 55%). This was a difficult session for the Conservatives (ECR), which have been sidelined by the other groups during the discussions on the Brexit negotiations.
These trends are, however, influenced by the topics that are being voted on. For example, when there are more reports on economic and monetary affairs or trade, EPP’s winning rate increases and that of the S&D and Greens decrease. Overall, this session showed a higher level of consensus between the political groups than usual, also due to less controversial reports being voted on.
Some mainstream MEPs are willing to make trade concessions to the UK
UKIP put to the test the internal cohesion of the pro-EU camp by tabling a set of amendments that criticized the strict red lines set by the EU negotiators. According to the voting records, this bid failed to drive a wedge within the heterogeneous coalition rallying behind Michel Barnier. However, the proposal to avoid delaying UK trade negotiations with other countries drew more support than expected, as it was backed by most members of British Conservatives’ own group, ECR, but also by some members of the EPP. Amongst others, two members of Berlusconi’s Forza Italia (Barbara Matera and Stefano Maullu), as well as two MEPs from the Dutch Christian Democratic Appeal (Wim van de Camp and Lambert van Nistelrooij) agreed to the UKIP’s amendment that argued that the EU should not completely block the UK from engaging in trade relations with third countries. Afterwards, Matera stated her intention to vote against the amendment.
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British and Polish Conservatives: “with friends like these, who needs enemies”?
Some might have expected the (nationalist) Law and Justice to be somewhat friendlier to London during the negotiations on Brexit, as it is one of the main allies of the British Conservative Party at the EU level. The reality could not have been more different this week: the Polish Conservatives supported most of the provisions included in the final document on Brexit by the pro-European forces, such as the continued jurisdiction of the ECJ in the UK during the transition period, the rejection of the possibility for the UK to negotiate trade agreements with third countries before its withdrawal from the EU, as well as the postponement of the Council’s assessment on the progress of the negotiations.
This unexpected behavior might signal a softening of Warsaw’s tone towards the EU, although more observations are needed to confirm if there is indeed a change of track.
Italians disagree with measures for the conservation of Atlantic tunas, Pittella in minority within PD
A large majority of MEPs (87%) backed a report aiming at transposing into EU law several recommendations by the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT). However, Italian MEPs from all political groups were unhappy with the final compromise, regardless of their political affiliation. Out of 73 Italians MEPs, 46 rejected the final text on the conservation of Atlantic tunas. Afterwards, several Italian MEPs (from both EPP and S&D) corrected their votes, declaring that they voted in favour by mistake.
Notably, the leader of the Socialists and Democrats, Gianni Pittella voted in favour of the proposal, whereas most of his colleagues from the governing Democratic Party (including the Italian vice-chair of the Committee on Fisheries, Renata Briano) opposed it. This occurrence strengthens the view that the leaders of the European groups have a broader “European” perspective on things, as they need to be the representatives of the plurality of national interests within their transnational group, rather than the narrow national interest of the country they come from. This event also showcases, on the other hand, that the leading figures of a group are not in position to “persuade” their colleagues to back something if there are strong national interests at stake.
Nevertheless, the marine biologist Marco Affronte, the only Italian member of Greens/EFA, voted in favour of the aforementioned measures.
Greens/EFA confirmed as the most cohesive group in the plenary
As for the previous session, the Greens/EFA was the most cohesive group (99%). This indicator measures the extent in which its members vote as a block, without “defections”. They are followed by S&D (98%). Strong cohesion helped S&D and Greens/EFA achieve the biggest number of victories during this plenary. ALDE was slightly less cohesive than the other centrist groups (86%), due to a higher number of internal disagreements on gender issues and environmental policy. ECR’s low number of victories in this plenary stemmed from the numerous absences affecting the British delegation, but also the low level of cohesion on environmental issues (60%).
Divisive feminism: tight majority of MEPs endorse the equal-earner-equal-carer model for families
A left-leaning coalition made up of socialists, radical leftists, greens and the Italian 5 Star Movement, managed to find the votes to push through a provision endorsing the so-called equal-earner-equal-carer model through the EP. This model aims at modifying through law the gender roles, for instance through a higher involvement of men in caring responsibilities. On the other hand, the opponents (center-right conservative and liberal groups) argue that it is not the role of the state in general, and that of the EU in particular, to interfere in the way families organise their private business.
The proposal passed due to the decisive support of some members of ALDE, such as Flemish Liberal Hilde Vautmans and Lieve Wierinck, as well as few EPP and ECR MEPs, who switched sides and gave the left the upper hand (the proposal passed by only 12 votes). The Portuguese Social Democratic Party (EPP) was the most divided party on this issue, with different members voting in favour, opposing, or abstaining on the proposal.
MEPs against Trump 1 – EP wants EU to fill the financial gap left by the US on abortion
EU Parliamentarians did not refrain from slapping Trump on the reinstatement and expansion of the so-called global gag rule, which forbids overseas organization that receive U.S. aid to deal with abortion-related issues. Furthermore, a large majority of MEPs (63%) want the EU and its Member States to use part of the development funding to fill the financing gap left by the US administration. The proposal was supported by the left-wing groups and ALDE. However, this issue split some of the right-leaning groups in the EP, namely EPP and ECR. The subject was particularly divisive among the members of the German CDU/CSU: 7 German EPP members voted in favour of filling the gap, 11 MEPs voted against and 11 abstained. Curiously, all participating French Republicans supported the initiative.
MEPs against Trump 2 – EU Parliamentarians call for a carbon border tax adjustment on US products
Criticism against Trump is not only limited to his administration’s policies on abortion. A whopping majority of 81% EU Parliamentarians called for further protectionist measures in order the counter the higher risk of carbon leakage stemming from the announced withdrawal of the US from the Paris Agreement on climate change. MEPs from several different groups backed the introduction of a carbon border tax adjustment and consumption charge, in particular in respect of products coming from countries that do not fulfill their commitments under the Paris Agreement. Interestingly, most members of free-trader groups such as ALDE and EPP endorsed the protectionist measures (as a way of defending the European industry vis-à-vis the US one), leaving ECR as the only clear opponent to the measures. However, some other MEPs disagreed with the push towards ‘green’ protectionism: the members of the Swedish Moderate Party (EPP) opposed the proposal, whereas Orban’s Fidesz (EPP) decided to abstain.
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ALDE/ADLE was the most participative group in this plenary session
ALDE/ADLE parliamentarians were the most participative in this part-session (97% participation rate), in particular when it came to the votes on the report on the Brexit negotiations (98%). S&D MEPs were also very participative (95%), especially on gender policy (95%). On the other hand, participation of ECR MEPs was lower than usual (75%), because of the high number of British Tories being absent in order to attend the annual convention of the Conservative Party in Manchester.
Dilemma: how will the Catalan independentists run for the next European elections?
What would happen to the Catalan MEPs if the scenario of an independent Catalonian state (unrecognized by Spain or the EU) were to materialize? Most likely, Spain would keep its current 54 MEPs (Catalonian MEPs included) and Catalonian candidates would still have to run for the European Parliament elections according to the Spanish system in 2019. In such a scenario, independentist parties may be tempted to boycott the EP elections, as these would be organized by the government in Madrid. However, this latter option would lead to the disappearance of the Catalan independendist parties from the EP, as Catalonia can be represented at the EU level only when/if all Member States decide to recognize the new country.
Greens set to be the odd one out in Berlin’s Jamaica coalition
According to our database on the votes cast in the European Parliament, the German Greens have been only half of times in the same boat as their potential coalition partners (Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union, the Free Democratic Party and the Christian Social Union), while the remaining half the Greens have voted against these parties. On the other hand, the Free Democratic Party (sitting in ALDE) and the Christian Democratic Union (member of the EPP) have agreed with each other on more than 80% of decisions made at the EU level. It remains to be seen whether the potential establishment of a Jamaica coalition in Berlin will bring the German Green MEPs closer to their national allies in the European Parliament as well.
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