During the first round of votes in the European Parliament, MEPs focused on foreign relations, while the legislative debate will resume after the summer. In particular, MEPs cast their votes on the EU’s approach towards the Venezuela crisis, an European Magnitisky Act and the crisis on the US-Mexico border. Notably, the side advocating for a tougher approach vis-à-vis all three seemed to get the upper hand.
Here are our take-aways from the first few votes on foreign policy in the new European Parliament:
– Renew Europe is confirmed as the kingmaker in the new EP as the group was on the winning side on all the votes cast so far. That is because the group sided with a right-leaning coalition on issues concerning Venezuela and Russia, while it sided with a left-leaning coalition on issues concerning the migration crisis at the US-Mexico border. The performance of the other ‘rebranded’ group, namely Salvini’s Identity and Democracy was, not surprisingly, quite different. In fact, the right-wing group was mainly on the losing side, with the only exception of the votes on Venezuela. In this case, a majority of ID members were on the winning side when backing a tougher stance towards the actions of Maduro’s government. However, their French members (ie. Marine Le Pen’s colleagues) disagreed with the Italian League and other delegations and voted against recognizing Juan Guaidó as the legitimate President of the country;
– GUE/NGL, backed by Greens/EFA, (unsuccessfully) tried to prevent the adoption of motions for resolution on Venezuela and then opposed the recognition of Juan Guaidó as the legitimate President of Venezuela. Some divisions were observed within the S&D group on these issues. For instance, relatively stronger scepticism on the endorsement of opposition leader Juan Guaidó was observed among the German, French, British, Portuguese, Bulgarian and Slovak members of S&D. However, S&D group still backed the final resolution, which called for further sanctions targeting Venezuelan state authorities for human rights violations, as well as support for investigation by the International Criminal Court on the claims of crimes perpetrated by the Maduro government. Quite interestingly, the Greens/EFA group was less united than usual when voting on the resolution on the Venezuela crisis, as the two Co-Chairs of the group (German Keller and Belgian Lamberts) ended up in minority (most members opposed the resolution against Maduro, while the two Co-Chairs decided to abstain);
– S&D was deeply divided on whether the potential EU sanctions regime for violations of human rights should be named after Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian tax accountant who died in prison after denouncing systematic corruption of Russian officials. The symbolic move (proposed by Renew Europe) is a clear swipe against Putin. Critics of the “Magnitsky” name argue that the EU human rights sanctions regime should be global in nature and that no specific human rights violation should be explicitly spotlighted. The reference to the case of Sergey Magnitsky (and thus to Russia) was supported by a majority of MEPs (ECR, EPP, Renew Europe and part of S&D), whereas GUE/NGL, Greens/EFA and ID voted against it. Within S&D, Austrian, German, Bulgarian and Portuguese members were among the most critical of the symbolic reference to Magnitsky, whereas the biggest delegation of the group, the Spaniards, preferred to take distance from the subject and abstained (including the new leader of the S&D group, Iratxe García). The proposal by Renew Europe also failed to fully convince former EP President Antonio Tajani (EPP), who abstained;
– The EPP sided with the right-wing groups in rejecting harsh criticism against the raids by the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency on undocumented migrants. However, the EPP ended up being outvoted, as Renew Europe, alongside the three progressive groups (GUE/NGL, Greens/EFA and S&D), managed to gather a majority against the actions of ‘criminalization’ of undocumented migrants by the respective U.S. agency. On the other hand, on most other issues concerning migration as a whole, such as rejecting any criminalization of humanitarian assistance and welcoming the UN global compact treaties on migration, the EPP sided with the centre-left, leaving right-wing ECR and ID on their own. Interestingly, the EPP as a whole managed to remain cohesive on these hot issues, even though the Hungarian Fidesz and, to a lesser extent, most French Republicains defied the group line and voted in the same way as the right-wing nationalists. For instance, the Hungarian and French EPP ‘rebels’ disagreed with the claim that “responding to migratory flows with repression or criminalisation favours xenophobia, hatred and violence”.
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.