EU Parliament

My colleague Philippe Ricard wrote a fine piece in Monday’s Le Monde about the scarcity of women candidates for top positions in the European Union – not just the first full-time president and the new foreign policy high representative, but the next 27-member European Commission.

He made the point that if only a few women are nominated to the new Commission, the European Parliament is likely to cause real trouble when the nominees appear for their confirmation hearings, expected to start in December.  The legislature does not have the legal authority to reject individual nominees, but in 2004 it demonstrated that it had the political strength to force their withdrawal when it torpedoed the appointment of Rocco Buttiglione, an Italian conservative, as justice commissioner.  Moreover, the parliament does have the legal power to reject the Commission in its entirety – the so-called “nuclear option”. Read more

As European Union leaders gather for their two-day summit in Brussels, the word is that the British government’s effort to have Tony Blair selected as the EU’s first full-time president is running into trouble.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown has just finished a round of afternoon discussions with other European socialist leaders, trying to persuade them that Blair deserves the job.  The talks did not go well. Read more

With a mere 27 members (all European heads of state or government, admittedly), the electorate that will pick the European Union’s first full-time president and new foreign policy high representative is even smaller than the conclave of Roman Catholic cardinals that chooses a new pope.  But this isn’t stopping other European busybodies from trying to muscle in on the decision.

Take the main political groups in the European Parliament, for example.  They have no formal say in the matter whatsoever.  Nonetheless, the parliament’s socialist group appears confident that it has an informal understanding with the centre-right European People’s Party that the full-time EU presidency should go to a EPP politician and the foreign policy post should go to a socialist. Read more

In the end, it was all so easy.  A few minutes ago, José Manuel Barroso won approval for a second term as European Commission president, after a vote in the European Parliament that went 382 in his favour and 219 against, with 117 abstentions.

Barroso thus comfortably cleared the threshold of 369 votes – that is, more than half of the 736-seat parliament – that he needed in order to remove any doubts about his political authority over the next five years.  No wonder he was wreathed in smiles as he accepted a congratulatory bouquet of flowers from Cecilia Malmström, Sweden’s European affairs minister. Read more

What’s the connection between martial arts and European financial market regulation?  Answers in Bulgarian, please.  Because the most colourful member of the newly elected European Parliament’s powerful economic and monetary affairs committee is surely Slavi Binev, a Bulgarian MEP

Binev is a Taekwondo champion whose parliamentary website describes him, with little exaggeration, as “the most recognisable figure in the history of martial arts in Bulgaria”.  Perhaps I should add that he is also a wealthy man who belongs to Bulgaria’s ultra-nationalist Ataka party and who runs a company specialising in nightclubs, construction and finance.  He knows, shall we say, how to look after himself. Read more

Like much public life in the European Union, José Manuel Barroso’s battle to win reappointment as European Commission president is a battle of low politics dressed up in high ideals.  Barroso will be denied a second five-year term unless he secures the approval of the European Parliament, where a vote on his future should have taken place in July but was postponed until mid-September.  Now the moment of truth is close.  What can Barroso say and do to win over his socialist, Green and liberal critics?

One clue came in a speech, almost entirely ignored by the media, that Barroso delivered last week at a Barcelona business school.  Here he all but set out his policy programme for the next five years.  The speech’s most important passage read as follows: “The recent recovery spots are fragile and do not allow for any complacency.  In any case, it is clear that global growth will not return to pre-crisis levels for some time – if at all.  Those growth rates – and the economic model behind them – were simply not sustainable.” Read more

Is the “Stop Barroso” campaign finally running out of steam?  Leaders of the main political groups in the European Parliament have pencilled in September 16 as the day when they will hold a vote on whether to confirm José Manuel Barroso for a second five-year term as European Commission president.

If this arrangement holds, then it will mark a defeat for the anti-Barroso forces who wanted to delay the vote until after Ireland held its October 2 referendum on the European Union’s Lisbon treaty.  They were striving to create a situation in which (assuming the Irish voted Yes) the EU would simultaneously choose its first full-time president, the bloc’s new foreign policy high representative and the Commission president.  In such circumstances, they hoped, Barroso would no longer be a shoo-in to run the Commission.  Other candidates would emerge.  Haggling would ensue.  It would (they dreamed) be adeus, José Manuel. Read more

If it were not funny, it would be tragic.  The UK Conservative party’s decision to quit the European People’s Party (EPP), the main centre-right political group in the European Parliament, is backfiring on the Tories in spectacular fashion.  The decision was always daft – a bit like the right wing of the US Republican Party splitting off and forming a minority group in Congress – but it now looks more short-sighted than ever.

On Tuesday the Tories relinquished the leadership of their new “anti-federalist” faction, the so-called European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) group, to Michal Tomasz Kaminski, a Polish politician.  They felt obliged to do so after Edward McMillan-Scott, a Tory MEP, refused to respect a deal in which Kaminski had been promised one of the parliament’s prestigious vice-presidency posts. Read more

The composition of the newly elected European Parliament, which holds its first session next week, will make many Britons hang their heads in shame.  For British politicians are either poorly represented, or not represented at all, in the 736-seat assembly’s three biggest political groups: the centre-right, centre and centre-left.  By contrast, Brits dominate the Eurosceptic and far-right fringes.

The loss of British influence in the parliament, which has a say in most European Union laws, will be substantial.  The likely damage to Britain’s reputation in Europe can only be guessed at. Read more

There are two ways of looking at the imminent appointment of Jerzy Buzek, a former Polish prime minister, as the next president of the European Parliament.  The first way is to applaud Europe’s politicians for doing the right thing and giving one of the European Union’s top jobs to a man from one of the 10 former communist countries in central and eastern Europe that joined the EU in 2004-2007.  This is the highest honour yet accorded to a public figure from one of the EU’s new member-states.  Poles are justifiably proud.

The second way, however, is to be honest and recognise that the job of parliament president is about the lowest-ranking position someone could be given without its looking like an insult.  Buzek, who belongs to the legislature’s main centre-right group, won’t even hold the job for the assembly’s full five-year term: under a deal with the socialists, he will step down after two and a half years and hand over the reins to a socialist.  The fact is that, by giving this post to Buzek, older and bigger member-states in western Europe are making sure that they will get all the really big jobs when they come up for grabs later this year. Read more