While most of the attention during last week’s EP plenary was focused on President Juncker’s speech, several other important (and under-the-radar) developments caught our attention, which will make the object of this report. At VoteWatch we focus on concrete facts (ie. decisions made), rather than promises or broad statements: we combine our statistical expertise and qualitative political insight to provide the most accurate (and non-partisan) reporting of EU politics’ trends.
The outcome of the push for more transparency is mixed
Transparency was under the spotlight during this plenary session, as MEPs eventually adopted a report spelling out new proposals aiming at improving transparency, accountability and integrity in the EU institutions. Among the several provisions, the final text calls for the quick implementation of whistleblower protection rules in the EU institutions, the extension of cooling off periods for former Commissioners to three years, the publication of legislative footprint by rapporteurs, shadow rapporteurs and committee chairs, as well as making the Transparency Register as mandatory as possible.
Remarkably, many of these measures have been adopted despite the opposition of the single most powerful political family in the EU institutions, the EPP (this political family includes Presidents Juncker, Tusk and Chancellor Merkel). This was possible as the EPP does not hold an absolute majority and the remaining groups (GUE-NGL, Greens/EFA, S&D, ALDE, ECR and ENF) formed an ad-hoc coalition that isolated the EPP on most of the votes on this dossier.
The EPP opposed most of the proposed measures as it considers them to be overly burdensome as well as problematic with regard to confidentiality and security (EPP also fears that too much transparency about EU’s internal decision-making processes makes the EU vulnerable). However, all the other groups disagreed, albeit for probably different reasons: the liberals and the leftists argue that these measures in fact strengthen the EU leadership, as it makes decision-making more inclusive, while the eurosceptics saw an opportunity to put the EU’s mainstream politicians on the defensive
Publication of MEPs’ meetings with stakeholders: rejected by a tie!
However, the EPP was on the winning side when voting on a key amendment calling for the publication of the meetings between stakeholders on the one side, and committee chairs, rapporteurs and shadow rapporteurs, on the other side, in the institutional profile pages of the MEPs. The Parliament was split down the middle on this matter, with exactly 293 Members voting on either side and since a 50%+1 backing is required for a measure to pass, the tie led to the rejection of the proposal.
The outcome also shows that the campaigners advocating for more transparency needed only one more vote from among the undecided MEPs to swing this very important vote in their favour. In the case of this vote, ALDE group and almost half of the Socialists (such as the Polish, the Danish and the Czechs) sided with the EPP. However, the remaining needed votes to block the measure were gathered one by one from the other groups. In particular, the votes of one Lithuanian ECR Member (Valdemar Tomaševski) and one German Green (Terry Reintke), who both voted against the general line of their own groups, proved decisive.
This is yet another example of the many votes in the European Parliament which are decided by just a few Members who effectively make the difference. These cases are likely to become even more frequent as the EPP and S&D seem to vote against each other more frequently. It is for this reason that at VoteWatch we produce analysis that looks at who the swing voters (or kingmakers) are likely to be on every subject that will be dealt with in the Parliament (check for instance our analysis of the MEPs’ positions on energy). If you are interested in this type of analysis, contact us at [email protected].
The breakdown of the votes by political group is available below:
(Only) EPP and ENF backed proposal to increase scrutiny on EU funding of vocal NGOs
An unusual majority made up of left-wing groups (GUE-NGL, Greens/EFA, S&D), as well as ECR and ALDE rejected a proposal by the EPP to increase the scrutiny on whether, to what extent and according to which criteria EU funding is being provided to NGOs with the aim of influencing politicians and governments. Only the far-right ENF supported the amendment tabled by the EPP, while most of the MEPs followed their group lines in this occasion. Among the notable exceptions, we found the Chair of the Committee on Constitutional Affairs, Danuta Maria Hübner (EPP), who disagreed with her own group’s position and voted against the proposal. A possible explanation of Hübner’s special position may be the fact that she does not want to weaken the NGOs at a time when these organizations are arguably under pressure in her home state, Poland.
S&D is the big winner of this plenary session among the political groups
S&D won the most during this plenary session (89% of all votes cast in the plenary), followed by Greens/EFA (83%). This was a highly successful plenary session for the left-wing groups, also thanks to a high level of cooperation between each other. On the other hand, this was a difficult session for the EPP, which won less than 60% of the votes (less than both the Conservatives of ECR and the far-left GUE-NGL). The centre-right wing group was repeatedly outvoted on Fisheries (0% winning rate) and Constitutional Affairs (10% winning rate). However, it is worth mentioning that this combination of events is a rare occurrence in the EP and it has a lot to do with the issues being voted on, i.e. on other topics the left-leaning groups find it harder to cooperate between one another and hence the majority is built with the EPP.
Are the paths of S&D and EPP diverging?
The monitoring of the developments since the beginning of the year shows that the EPP and S&D do not see eye-to-eye on an increasing number of issues. In January, the leader of the S&D, Gianni Pittella, announced the end of the grand coalition with the EPP, in the run-up to the last elections of the EP President.
Although the two political groups are still supporting the Juncker Commission (together with ALDE) political majorities in the EP tend to be formed on an ad-hoc basis. Decreasing cooperation between the two groups would boost the clout of ALDE, but also the fringe political groups which can act as kingmakers on several votes. A decisive event that will indicate if this trend will accelerate or reverse will be the formation of the new German government after the elections that will take place on the 24th September: if the CDU succeeds to build a new type of coalition (e.g. with the FDP and the Greens), therefore excluding the SPD from government, then it is likely that we will see more competition between EPP and S&D also at the European level. This means that the two leading political forces would tend to try to form coalitions on the right and left flank, respectively, but given that the combined balance of power is almost even in the Parliament, Council and the Commission, this will only increase the unpredictability of the outcomes (and, consequently, the leverage of the smaller forces that will make the difference).
Austrian People’s Party endorses tighter controls on arms export
Left leaning groups also got the upper hand when voting on some of the key paragraphs related to arms export. The report drafted by the Swedish Bodil Valero calls for a mechanism to sanction Member States that fail to comply with the 8 criteria of the Common Position for exports of products, as well as the establishment of an arms control supervisory body under the auspices of the High Representative. These provisions were opposed by most Members of EPP, ECR and ENF, although the proposals drew the support of the Austrian EPP members (among others), who contributed to the approval of the initiatives. The breakdown of the vote by political group is available below:
European Commission loses battle to approve new genetically modified soybean
The EU Executive (more specifically DG Health and Food Safety) has suffered a blow, when the center-left forces in the EP managed to put together an ad-hoc qualified majority to block its proposal to approve the placing on the market of products containing, consisting of, or produced from genetically modified soybean DAS- 68416-4 (which was developed by the company Dow AgroSciences LLC).
The proposal by the Commission to authorize these products was rejected by most political groups, but also by some ALDE and EPP members. Notably, more than 50 EPP members (among which the Hungarian delegation of Fidesz) as well as 17 ALDE members, provided their votes to the anti-soybean camp, helping it to reject a Commission’s implementing act. Notably, both the current and former chairs of the ENVI Committee, Adina-Iona Vălean and Giovanni la Via, backed the proposal by the Commission and found themselves on the losing side, which highlights the very tough political fighting that goes on between political players in one of the most powerful EP committees. While a perfectly democratic process, the outcome of this vote reminds the bureaucrats of the Executive the hard way that it is the politicians in the Parliament who are in charge (as long as these can build majorities).
The Greens/EFA group was the most cohesive during the September plenary
The Greens/EFA was the most cohesive group of this plenary session (98%), meaning that its MEPs voted most often as a block. It was closely followed by S&D (97% cohesion rate). High cohesion and participation of its Members in votes is a prerequisite for leveraging the potential power of a political group, i.e. to turn numbers into policies as close to its preferences as possible. Strong cohesion and participation helped S&D to achieve the biggest number of victories during this plenary. The EPP also managed to keep a somewhat high level of internal cohesion, whereas the Eurosceptic groups were the most divided. The cohesion of ALDE and ECR was affected by their internal divisions (irreconcilable differences between national delegations) on environmental policy: the cohesion of the Liberal group on files regarding the Environment, Health and Food Safety was only 78%, whereas, in the case of ECR, the cohesion on ENVI files dipped as low as 65%.
ALDE and ECR split on reducing ETS allowances allocated to aviation sector
In particular, ALDE and ECR lacked cohesion when voting on key amendments to the report on the application of the ETS to the aviation sector. ALDE MEPs had very different views when voting on the proposed reduction of ETS allowances allocated to the aviation sector and an increase in the allowances auctioned as of 2021. Within ALDE, Belgian and Swedish Members backed this proposal, whereas the member of the Dutch Party for Freedom and Democracy (leading the current Dutch government), as well as the Romanians, supported a more gradual approach. A similar split was observed in the Conservative group, ECR, as the Flemish NVA backed the proposed reductions in the allowances freely allocated to the aviation companies as of 2021, while the Polish Conservatives preferred to abstain. On the other hand, EPP and S&D were more cohesive on this issue and backed the key amendment proposed by the ENVI Committee.
Dutch and Maltese EPP Members back EP investigation into Azerbaijani Laundromat
Despite opposition from EPP, ALDE, ECR and EFDD, a proposal that aims at setting up a comprehensive Parliament investigation into the recent “Azerbaijani Laundromat” revelations was adopted. The “Laundromat” is a system of money laundering and corruption of decision makers and influencers, allegedly pursuing the interests of Azerbaijani ruling elite. The amendment was approved by a narrow majority of MEPs (51%), made up of the left-wing groups (GUE-NGL, Greens/EFA, S&D), ENF as well as the Italian 5 Star Movement. In this case, a few members of the EPP, such as the members of the Dutch Christian Democratic Appeal and the Maltese Nationalist Party, went against the majority in the group led by Manfred Weber and backed the setup of an investigation.
Green MEPs the most participative in September plenary
Overall, we recorded a relatively low level of participation in this first plenary after the summer recess, 84%. The MEPs of Greens/EFA were the most participative in this session (94%), followed by the members of ENF (90%). Perhaps not surprisingly, the level of participation of the Greens/EFA was even higher in the case of votes on environmental topics (98%), whereas participation of ENF was the highest during votes concerning Industry, Research and Energy (97%). The lowest level of participation was recorded among the ranks of the Conservatives of ECR (78%).
These are just a few of our observations during the most recent EP part-session. Feel free to get in touch with us if you have questions, comments, or tips on what and how we should look into at [email protected] or by phone +32 2 318 11 91.
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