Bets, race for EP makeup heats up

EPP-led four-party coalition seems the most likely outcome

Manfred Weber (2L) has the official support of his EPP grouping for being elected as Commission head, but behind the scenes many express doubts about his executive capabilities.

Two weeks ahead of the new European Parliament inaugural plenary session, bets are still up what the party composition will look like and how the future majority will work. The plenary meets on 2 July in Strasbourg to elect its leadership, while political groups hold their constitutive meetings before that. A political group must consist of at least 25 MEPs elected in at least 7 Member States, and to be officially recognised as of 2 July they have to notify their composition by 1 July.

While traditional groupings such as European People's Party (EPP), Socialist and Democrats (S&D), Greens, etc., have no identity problems, this is not the case with Eurosceptics and populists, and to a certain extent with liberals as well. In order to broaden its scope, the ALDE grouping renamed itself to Renew Europe as French President Emmanuel Macron's En Marche and other parties joined. The group has 108 MEPs and is the third largest.

At the same time, the far-right anti-EU group Europe of Nations and Freedom (ENF) announced the creation of a new political group, composed from nine member parties with 73 seats in total. The change was announced last Thursday by Marine Le Pen. The new group unites Eurosceptics who aim to devolve power from Brussels back to capitals. Calling itself the Identity and Democracy (ID) group, the new alliance brings together National Rally, the Italian League party and Germany's Alternative for Germany (AfD) as well as nationalists from Austria, Finland and Denmark, among others, and is the fifth largest. However, Eurosceptic and nationalist politicians who performed well in elections are unlikely to wield significant power in the legislature after they failed to organise as a single group.

Instead, the EP will be once again ruled by a coalition lead by EPP and comprising S&D, liberals and Greens. Representatives of the four groups met last week to chart their future strategy and to formulate joint political priorities for their work in the new five-year term.

Meeting in the Spanish resort city of San Sebastian, the conservatives confirmed German Manfred Weber as their lead candidate to head the next European Commission, but behind the scenes some representatives expressed doubts that he is the right choice. The EPP leaders warned that there could be a deadlock in Parliament if the Council refuses to nominate Weber for the EU's top job. The EU Council meets on 20-21 June to consider the top post within the Union.

EPP leaders said that in a closed-door meeting Croatian PM Andrej Plenkovic, one of the EPP's two coordinators in the leadership negotiations on EU top jobs, told party officials that concerns about Weber's “lack of executive experience” posed a problem for his candidacy in the Council, which in recent decades has preferred selecting old-hand Commission presidents. Ironically, German Weber could be finally replaced by another German - Chancellor Angela Merkel, despite the fact that she is firmly and consistently denying such rumours. The first chance for Parliament to vote for new EC President will be on 15 July when it meets for its second session.

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