Key lessons from the 26-29 October EP plenary

Doru Peter Frantescu
by Doru Peter Frantescu
Director & co-founder of VoteWatch Europe @dorufrantescu

by Doru P. Frantescu, director & co-founder of VoteWatch Europe (@dorufrantescu)

During the plenary (or part-session) of the European Parliament between 26-29 October we saw some very interesting trends in the behavior of the political groups and which also explain the results of the votes. Here are just a few.

How cohesive has been each of the political groups?

Firstly, the EPP experienced a much greater internal discipline (or solidarity) than in the previous part-session. Out of the total 358 roll-call votes (a record high) that took place during the 3 days of voting at the end of October, in was only rarely that EPP Members deviated from the pre-established group line. As a result, EPP was the most cohesive group, with a score of 98% cohesion.

Greens/EFA group follows closely, at 97%. The S&D group lags behind at 94%, as its Members have had a number of internal disagreements on key points of the report on the Digital Single Market, as well as on Novel food.  Interestingly, the national delegation deviating the most from the group’s line was no other than that of the Parliament’s President, Martin Schulz, i.e. the German delegation. In particular, the German delegation had a separate opinion from the Socialist group and voted alongside the Greens and the radical-left for a comprehensive definition of “net neutrality“. The Spanish Socialist delegation (PSOE) also deviated from the group line on novel food.

The cohesion of the liberal ALDE group also suffered when it came to voting on the “net neutrality” issue, but even more so when voting on the number of judges at the Court of Justice of the European Union.

The main issue splitting the 3rd largest group was the money, i.e. the budget of the EU: David Cameron’s British Conservative delegation wanted less money to go to the EU’s coffer (no surprise here), but their Polish colleagues (which are taking over the strings of power in Warsaw) want more money for the EU.

As on most occasions, at the bottom of this table are the eurosceptics and the far-right, whose Members vote against each other on quite a few occasions.

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Who won the votes?

Key developments here: while in the previous plenary the ALDE group had won most votes, this time around the situation is different, as the EPP was on the winning side in 90% of the votes. However, the results were so different from one dossier to another that they deserve a closer look.

Notably, within the 10% of lost votes are some key votes on civil liberties issues, economic affairs and environment. Concretely, on a dossier that received extensive media coverage and that deals with the electronic mass surveillance of EU-citizens, EPP lost no less than 17 of the 25 roll call votes. Most importantly, EPP was particularly upset with the victory of the left and the liberals on the proposal to grant asylum to Edward Snowden.

The EPP also lost some key votes on the Economic Semester for Economic Policy Coordination (budget discipline/austerity), where the group seemed unusually confused: at the final vote the group was split down the middle. Some of the key votes lost by the EPP regarded the activity of the Eurogroup, whose legitimacy to take decisions at EU level was questioned by the the left and eurosceptics who created an ad-hoc majority, to the disappointment of the conservatives.

On the other hand, the EPP group has maintained control of critical votes on the EU budget, novel foods, the number of judges at the Court of Justice of the EU and on the Measurements of Emissions in the Car Industry (Volkswagen affair).

The ALDE group won more votes than the much bigger S&D, due to tactical voting alongside the EPP on economy-related issues (such as European Semester for Economic Policy Coordination) and alongside S&D on the civil liberties (the report on the mass surveillance of EU citizens).

ECR and the Greens/EFA have done rather poorly during this plenary, being on the losing side in quite a few votes, mainly when the EPP and S&D managed to agree. The groups at the left and right fringes have done even worse.

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Who participated in votes?

Surprisingly (or not), the far-right ENF Members have been the most keen to take part in votes (by far), even though, as seen above, they lost most of them. Again, it is worth paying attention to this development, because there have been quite a few votes which were decided by a very small margin, and where therefore the votes of ENF did count (granting asylum to Snowden is just one example of where the votes of ENF effectively made the difference). Such a development may increase disproportionately the leverage of the fringe groups at the expense of the centrist ones. Lastly, the non-attached MEPs have missed most votes – no wonder, as they don’t have a whip to watch over them.

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Which votes did the MEPs find most/less interesting?

“How to split the money”, that’s what the MEPs found most important during this plenary.  Since various factions have different priorities, political groups fought to move the money back and forth between various headings of the EU’s 2016 budget and they needed all the manpower they could rally to be successful. Consequently, a record number of MEPs, 699, voted on the General budget of the Union for 2016. On the other hand, promoting tourism in Europe was somewhat less interesting among Members, although even here the number of MEPs voting is relatively high (617).

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For more information and analysis, contact me at [email protected]

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