Winners and losers in the EP decision-making: EU budget, herbicides, unemployment scheme and electoral interference

Sylvie Goulard was not the only one to be defeated last week in the European Parliament. While the EPP and S&D were successful in their mission to break even with Macron’s group on the number of commissioners being rejected, the two traditional groups lost on other fronts.

The “good old grand coalition” EPP+S&D also joined forces to propose the set-up of a new special committee to investigate foreign electoral interference and disinformation in European elections. However, these two learned again that they can no longer reach 50% of MEPs’ votes on their own, as all the other groups made an ad-hoc coalition and shot down their proposal. The decision of most Renew Europe MEPs to side with the fringe groups (to the right and to the left) provided the opposing camp with just enough votes to block it: the proposed committee was rejected by a narrow majority of MEPs (320 vs 306). This occurrence and the rejection of Goulard as Commissioner signal that tough times lie ahead in the relationship between the 3 biggest EP groups, as well as between Merkel (and her successor) and Macron.

The European Commission (and other stakeholders) also learned that technocrats and politicians can reach very different conclusions when looking at the same information: the Commission was defeated when a majority of MEPs objected to the authorisation of herbicides and herbicide-tolerant GMOs.

However, fragmentation and disagreements did not prevent a strong position of the Parliament when it came to the EU budget: a large majority of MEPs did back an ambitious proposal for a bigger EU multi-annual budget. Similarly, the planned establishment of a European unemployment scheme was also met with cross-party support across the House.

As usual, VoteWatch Europe looked into the voting behaviour of each of the MEPs to understand the mindset and the priorities of the incoming elected officials. As observed over the years, the voting behaviour is the single most important tool to filter out electoral noise and understand what each MEP actually stands for. This method also allows us to observe the shifts in trends and to forecast future outcomes of EU decisions. Below are our main take-aways from last week’s decisions.

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-   EU Commission defeated on herbicides and GMOs, as its decisions meet EP objections

The new MEPs are showing the Commission, in case there was any doubt, that they will keep a close eye on its regulatory decisions and will not hesitate to flex their muscles. During the last plenary session, over 60% of MEPs backed a series of objections to the authorization of herbicide-tolerant GMOs and active substances used for plant protection products (such as chlorotoluron and flumioxazine, which are potential endocrine disruptors). The EU’s technocratic level had initially approved the use of these substances, being of the opinion that the scientific evidence indicates that they are safe for use. Though using the same evidence (or possibly other), the politicians reached a different conclusion.

The coalition against the Executive’s proposal was made up of the left (S&D, Greens/EFA and GUE/NGL) and the right-wing ID group. On the other hand, most EPP members sided with the Commission, while Macron’s Renew Europe group was split down the middle on some of these votes. Unsurprisingly, the French centrists voted against the authorization of these active substances and GMOs. They were joined by the CEE members of the group (e.g. the Hungarians, Romanians, Slovaks). On the opposite end, the German, Nordic and Czech Renew members sided with the Commission. Interestingly, the British LibDem (currently the second largest national delegation within Renew Europe) was rather divided on these matters. For instance, 5 Lib-Dem MEPs voted against the authorization of herbicide-resistant genetically modified maize MZHG0JG, 7 LibDem voted in favour, whereas 3 of them abstained.

Those who have been following our VoteWatch analyses will not be surprised to see this kind of split in Renew Europe, as we have forecast the clashes between the traditional free-market-oriented wing of Renew Europe and the more regulation-oriented newcomers, in particular the French. The map below shows how the Renew Europe national delegations voted on the objection against extending the authorization of a set of (disputed) active substances used in plant protection products.

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Most MEPs (including German CDU and SPD) defy ‘frugal’ governments by demanding bigger multi-annual budget

A whopping majority of MEPs (almost 70%) challenged the most ‘frugal’ national governments by defending a proposal for a sharp increase in the size of the EU multi-annual budget (up to 1.3% of EU GNI, which is way higher than the Commission’s initial proposal of 1.08% of EU GNI). The only political group that was clearly opposed to bigger EU spending capacity was right-wing Identity and Democracy, whereas most members of the other political groups gave their green-light.

However, significant national cleavages were observed, as several MEPs coming from the biggest net contributors to the EU budget did not conceal their opposition to such increase. They are of the opinion that the planned departure of the UK (one of the budget’s main net contributors) will already lead to an increase in national contributions and that a further increase in the size of the budget would be too much for those who have to foot the bill. As a result, Swedish MEPs voted overwhelmingly against the proposal (only S&D Erik Bergkvist supported it), whereas the Dutch opposition was slightly less consensual (MEPs from GreenLeft, D66, 50 PLUS, as well as Kati Piri - PvdA  - voted in favour of the bigger budget).

Interestingly, while the German government supports capping the budget at about 1% of EU GNI (lower than the Commission’s proposal), EU Parliamentarians from both CDU/CSU and SPD went against Berlin’s official position and backed the big increase proposed by MEPs. Only CDU’s Niclas Herbst  and Stefan Berger found the proposed increase to be too ambitious. Even MEPs from fiscal conservative FDP gave their consent to increase the EU spending capacity. Could this apparent consensus among the German parties in the EP (excluding AfD) signal that the German government’s opposition to budgetary increases is not as strong as it looks like?

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Southern MEPs push proposal for European unemployment scheme

Latest voting behaviour shows that one of the key proposals of Ursula von der Leyen, namely the introduction of a European unemployment benefit reinsurance scheme, can count on the support of a majority of MEPs (56%), but not on the full support of her own political family. In fact, the EPP was split on whether such scheme should go ahead (68 MEPs in favor vs 74 against).

While the proposal aims to reduce the pressure on national public finances during external shocks, therefore avoiding cuts in social welfare, some MEPs from countries with traditionally lower unemployment rates are afraid that their voters could end up footing the bill for other countries’ high level of unemployment. The map below shows how different the views are within the EPP family, based on whether their countries are likely to be on the contributing or receiving side: the members from Southern countries, which have among the highest unemployment rates in the EU, are supportive of the plan, whereas strong opposition is found among Northern and Central European EPP policy-makers (where unemployment is much lower).

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National divisions are also visible in other groups, such as Renew Europe, but also left wing GUE/NGL. Such national divisions foreshadow a difficult way ahead for the proposal, in particular with regards to the Council, where Southern countries (and their allies) will have to work hard to overcome the opposition of fellow Member States (even the Social Democrat MEPs from Denmark and Sweden – whose parties are currently in government – did not vote in favour of the initiative).

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We observed other significant trends 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 tracks all developments in the EP and provides updates after every EP plenary. Contact us at [email protected] if you need tailored research or training on MEPs’ likely positions and majority building in specific areas.

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One thought on “Winners and losers in the EP decision-making: EU budget, herbicides, unemployment scheme and electoral interference”

  1. Could co-legislators make the CAP proposal any better for water? At the time of writing there is some hope, as the only formal opinion to date from a key decision maker is that of the European Parliament’s Committee on Environment, Public Health and Food Safety.  For the first time, this committee has shared competence over the CAP reform, and they have asked for stronger objectives and a higher baseline on water use and agrochemicals, as well as a significant budget for environmental measures in the CAP.

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