The “mid-term reshuffle” of the European Parliament
The European Parliament has elected its President for the next two-and-a-half years.
Although the normal duration of a parliamentary term is five years, the European Parliament (EP), sees its President, Vice-Presidents, Quaestors, Committee Chairs and Vice-Chairs been changed every two-and-a-half year. This was a key point on the agenda of the plenary session of the Parliament in Strasbourg this January.
The 'technical agreement' between the Socialist and Democrats (S&D) and the European People's Party (EPP).
Since none of the seven political groups in the European Parliament has the required majority to elect one of their members as President of the Assembly, for more than twenty years there has been a 'gentleman’s agreement’ between the two main groups, the centre-right EPP and the centre-left S&D, allowing the rotation of the two groups' candidates. Only between January 2002 and June 2004 was this agreement broken after the EPP had struck a deal with the ALDE group allowing Pat Cox to become President for that period of time.
Following the last election in June 2009, the EPP remained the most important group in the Assembly and kept the Presidency for the first two-and-a-half year of the parliamentary term: so Jerzy Buzek became the first Pole to be President of the European Parliament. In January 2012, according to the electoral agreement time had come for the leader of the S&D group, Martin Schulz from Germany, to become the 28th President of the EP. He got a majority of 387 out of 670 valid votes (out of a total of 754 MEPs). The rest of the votes were divided between two of his challengers, Diana Wallis, from the ALDE group (141 votes), and Nirj Deva, from the ECR group (142 votes).
Martin Schulz, President of the European Parliament
Martin Schulz has been an MEP since 1994. In 2004 he became leader of the then Socialist group (known as S&D since 2009) after having chaired the German SPD group within the S&D from 2000 until 2004.
Martin Schulz takes over the Presidency of the European Parliament at a time where the institution that represents the Union’s citizens sometimes feels sidelined by the Council of the European Union and even more so by the European Council, especially in the efforts made by the EU to find a solution to the current Eurozone crisis. For instance, the latest “fiscal compact” Treaty signed on 2nd March in Brussels by 25 Heads of States and Government is an intergovernmental agreement, is therefore not part of the usual framework of EU Treaties, giving hardly any say to the EP in monitoring its implementation. It is probably against that background that Mr Schulz’ recent travel to Athens (28th February) and speech delivered to his colleagues of the Hellenic Parliament should be assessed.
The challenge for Martin Schulz in his next two-and-a-half year term will be to continue raising the profile of the Parliament, whilst maintaining good relationships with the other institutions of the EU.
The “mid-term reshuffle”
Halfway through the seventh parliamentary term, not only was the President changed but also the Vice-Presidents, the Committee Chairs and Vice-Chairs, as well as the Quaestors of the institution. The composition of the committees has to take into account not only the balance of political power in the assembly according to the seven political groups, but also the relative number of MEPs corresponding to the population of each member state. Even though the committee chairs are designated by election, candidates are proposed only after political agreement between the parties is achieved.
Every two-and-a-half year, the overall organisation of the institution is therefore reshuffled. Though the five-yearly change is more far-reaching, given that the balance between political groups may well be significantly changed, “mid-term reshuffles” are rather more than a mere redistribution of chairs.
Hervé Pierre Guillot SJ
Jesuit European Social Centre (JESC), Brussels