DECEMBER 2016. Report of Interel session with Richard Steel: “EU half term report – Tried hard but could do better…”
Richard referred to his presentation of December 2015 where he had described the Lisbon Treaty’s system for selection of the candidates for the new presidency of the European Parliament and the related political alignment with the European Commission (see The Association Leadership Academy archive sessions).
Richard started with an insightful overview of the European Parliament, looking back 12 months and ahead to 2017. He mentioned the “Grand Coalition” in the Parliament which had made for a smoother mandate and good cooperation with the Commission. However, Richard says that things have changed…
There are still threats from terrorists, problems with migration and strain with Russia but the rise of populism is high on the political agenda and will guide and inform which political positions the institutions will take in 2017.
The Grand Coalition is under threat. Whilst the Chair of the European Peoples’ Party is calling for pro-European unity, the socialists have considered opting for another path. The days of cosy deals are numbered. EU citizens want a demonstration of the variety of opinions that they represent. The election of the new EP President in January 2017, is a means of showcasing that diversity. Indeed, actual proper elections with a vote are going to be held for the first time.
One of the other effects of the Grand Coalition coupled with the approach to Better Regulation is that the number of legislative proposals and the length of the respective adoption procedures has been greatly reduced. Now, 85% of proposals are adopted at first reading, due to early compromises being reached and where only about 4 to 5 people make the key decisions for Europe, behind closed doors. These trialogues also concentrate too much in too few hands within the parliamentary committees.
Another upcoming test for democratic diversity is the parliamentary audition to be held due to Commissioner Oettinger’s change of portfolio, although no vote in plenary is foreseen. This, despite the fact that half of the Party of European Socialists do want such a vote.
Richard underlined that, with the demise of the Grand Coalition, there was a risk that the Presidency candidates would only meet with success if they had garnered the support of the extremists groups.
Regarding the European Commission, Richard mentioned the ‘numerical success of the Better Regulation package with a greatly reduced number of legislative proposals. The Transparency register is set to become compulsory. There has been discussion also about whether all levels of officials in the Commission should declare who they are speaking with and on which topic, as opposed to “just” the Cabinet and Director General levels doing as much.
Finally, Richard spoke about the European Council, under pressure to find majorities as the Grand Coalition falters and struggling to find a clear direction to take as the effects of Brexit are still to be understood. Will Donald Tusk survive as President? We will know soon enough!