While preparing for the upcoming hearings of the EU Commission nominees, MEPs cast their votes on some of the hottest topics on the EU agenda: the appointment of Christine Lagarde to succeed Mario Draghi at the ECB, the EU strategy on the Brexit negotiations, the US sanctions against Iran and the case of the Amazon fires.
While the mainstream forces (S&D, Renew Europe and EPP) managed to remain cohesive in backing Lagarde and the EU Brexit strategy, rifts among these groups were observed with regards to the EU position on US-Iran and the Amazon fires. Such divisions pave the way for a stronger influence of the smaller groups, whose positions become decisive.
While these two issues have also been the focus of Emmanuel Macron’s summer activities, the outcome of the votes rings an alarm bell for the French President: his own party was divided over whether to push for a resolution on the Amazon deforestation, whereas a majority of MEPs was not ready to back overt criticism of US actions against Iran.
As usual, VoteWatch Europe looked into the winners and losers from the latest plenary session of the European Parliament. Stay tuned to our analyses or contact us at [email protected] for deeper insights (NB: we provide tailored training and research upon request).
3 political groups (and 60% of MEPs) supported Lagarde’s ECB appointment confirmation
While the vote on the appointment of Christine Lagarde as the new President of the European Central Bank (ECB) was held by secret ballot, a proposal by left-wing GUE/NGL and right-wing ID groups to postpone both the debate and the vote on Lagarde’s appointment provides some indications on whom was keen to hinder the smooth confirmation of the French politician at the helm of the powerful Frankfurt-based institution.
However, their bid to undermine Lagarde’s appointment was rejected by 60% of MEPs, due to the cohesive front formed by S&D, Renew Europe and EPP (also known as ‘super grand-coalition’). While these moderate groups lost ground after the elections in 2019, they still hold a majority of seats in the EP when they manage to agree. This mirrors the outcome of the official secret ballot, which saw Lagarde getting the support of slightly over 60% of (voting) MEPs.
Notably, this key appointment sparked relevant divisions within the Conservative ECR group. While the Polish MEPs (from outside the Eurozone) backed the proposal to postpone the vote, some of the other members of the groups (many of them coming from Eurozone countries, such as the MEPs from the New Flemish Alliance and Dutch Forum for Democracy) preferred not to rock the boat and sided against the postponement.
Brexit: Law and Justice MEPs critical of backstop red line; Commissioner nominee Trócsányi sends a goodwill signal
A wide coalition of MEPs from the center-right EPP to the hard left reiterated their refusal to give their consent to a Brexit Withdrawal Agreement without a backstop arrangement to prevent a ‘hard’ land border between UK and Ireland. The position of the British government has, at the moment, only few allies among MEPs, although it could count on the backing of the ECR and ID groups. The Polish governing party, Law and Justice (ECR) did back their group colleagues the British Conservatives in criticizing the EU strategy of setting the exclusion of the backstop as a red line in the negotiations. However, not all members of ECR agreed with the position of their group, as conservative members from Belgium, the Netherlands and Slovakia were more supportive of the EU’s insistence on the Irish backstop.
Similarly, the ECR and ID groups were relatively isolated in opposing the claim according to which the UK should take all the blame in case of a no-deal Brexit. According to them, the EU should be held responsible in case no solution is found by the late October’s deadline. Interestingly, Hungarian Fidesz MEPs agreed with the ECR and ID groups on this statement, therefore defecting from the EPP’s line. Only the Hungarian nominee to the European Commission, László Trócsányi, decided to support the position of the EPP, namely that the UK government should be deemed entirely responsible for a potential no-deal Brexit. Since Trócsányi is expected to face a tough hearing in the European Parliament (which can potentially lead to his rejection as European Commissioner), the former Hungarian Minister for Justice might have thought of sending a goodwill signal by following the EPP’s line (rather than Fidesz’s one) on such a sensitive topic for the future of the EU.
French influence observed in Renew Europe’s changing stance on US-Iran
On Thursday, MEPs voted on the human rights situation in Iran, an occasion for some groups to criticize the US extraterritorial sanctions against the Middle-Eastern country. Parties like the far left, the Greens or the 5 Star (but also Le Pen’s National Rally) supported hard criticism of US’s stance. The statement was, however, rejected by a bloc made up of the center and center-right forces (EPP, S&D,ECR,ID groups).
Quite interestingly, the Renew Europe group decided to not take a position, with the notable exception of Czech ANO 2011, which sided with the front supporting the sanctions. While the former ALDE group was recorded as one of Iran’s staunchest critics during the previous term of the European Parliament (see our previous reports on MEPs’ views on Iran and the Middle-East), the French influence (substantially increased after the recent EU elections) seems to be swinging the nuances in the views of this group when it comes to foreign affairs. Overall, a majority of French MEPs (55%) supported the criticism against the US sanctions, while only a small minority of French (17%) opposed it.
Macron’s Renew Europe split over Amazon forest fires
Despite French President Macron being very vocal recently on the matter, only part of his political family in the European Parliament was comfortable with pushing the subject higher on the international agenda. An initiative by left-wing groups (GUE/NGL and Greens/EFA) to hold a vote on a resolution related to the Amazon forest fires failed also due to lack of support by part of Renew Europe MEPs. While the hard left, 5 Star Movement, Greens/EFA and S&D supported the motion, only a minority of Renew Europe MEPs joined the progressive coalition on this occasion.
Quite interestingly, even a majority of French MEPs belonging to Macron’s Renaissance voted against the request (including the newly elected ENVI Chair, Pascal Canfin). Nevertheless, other French Renaissance MEPs, such as former Green Pascal Durand, supported the effort to put this issue under the spotlight in the European Parliament.
We also observed further splits within other national parties belonging to Renew Europe, such as Ciudadanos and the British Liberal Democrats, showing that there is still lack of consensus among the centrist ranks on how to address the issue of the Amazon forest conservation. More generally, this is another indication that the newly formed EP political groups still have work to do to build internal consensus, if at all possible.
The remaining groups were cohesive on the matter, as MEPs from the EPP, ECR and ID groups were united in voting down the left-wing initiative on Amazon forest fires.
While these are just the overall trends, other significant findings were also observed with regards to the cohesion of key national parties and the behaviour of individual MEPs. For more detailed information on how each MEP voted on these subjects, check out our website www.votewatch.eu
VoteWatch will keep a close eye on all developments in the EP and provide updates after every EP plenary. Contact us at [email protected] if you need research or training on MEPs’ likely positions and majority building in specific areas.