Movers and Shakers | Government edition

Written by Ifigenia Balkoura on 15 May 2017 in News
News

Keep track of developments in European governments with a special edition of our movers and shakers column.

It is undoubtedly a busy spring with major elections in the EU member states, each one equally important but for different reasons. The Netherlands has already held elections and is in the process of forming a government, while the new Bulgarian cabinet took office on 4 May. Croatia and the Czech Republic seem to have avoided snap elections for the time being. France has just elected a new president, while the British elections will take place on 8 June. Malta heads to the polls on 3 June.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte's centre-right VVD party won most of the seats in the country's 15 March elections. Marine Le Pen's close friend and ally Geert Wilders, leader of the far-right Freedom party, came second. Eurogroup chief Jeroen Dijsselbloem's labour party suffered a humiliating defeat after securing only nine out of the 38 seats it previously held. Coalition talks are being held. Will Dijsselbloem remain part of the government and stay on as finance minister? If not, this will signal the end of his tenure as head of the Eurogroup.

In Bulgaria, Prime Minister Boyko Borissov – leader of the centre-right GERB party – called early elections on 26 March following his cabinet's resignation. The move was triggered by the victory of the Socialist-backed, pro-Russian Rumen Radev in the presidential elections. The new President, who took oath in January, succeeded Rosen Plevneliev, while then-MEP Iliana Iotova left Brussels to take on her new role as deputy President. Following coalition talks, Borissov formed a coalition government with the nationalist United Patriots, an alliance of the Bulgarian National Movement, the Attack and the National Front for the Salvation of Bulgaria.

The new cabinet under Borissov is composed of 21 ministers, four out of whom are deputy prime ministers. United Patriots, the junior partner in the coalition government, secured the ministries of defence, economy, and environment and two deputy prime minister posts.

Why this election matters: Bulgaria will be holding the rotating Council presidency in the first half of 2018. Political stability will be instrumental for a successful Bulgarian presidency. In the new government Liliyana Pavlova will be in charge of the country's upcoming EU presidency, from a ministerial post. In addition, the new government was tasked with the nomination of a new Commissioner to replace Kristalina Georgieva who resigned last December to become CEO at the World Bank. Shortly after the new cabinet was set up, Mariya Gabriel was proposed as the new Bulgarian Commissioner. Gabriel has been an MEP since 2009 and is a Vice-Chair of Parliament's EPP group. 

Croatia entered a phase of uncertainty and political crisis just seven months after Andrej Plenkovic's cabinet took office. The coalition government between the Croatian Democratic Union and the Bridge of Independent Lists (MOST) collapsed on 27 April after the latter pulled its support. The crisis erupted when three ministers affiliated to MOST refused to support finance minister Zdravko Maric in a vote of confidence amid a conflict of interest scandal. Slaven Dobrović, minister for the environment, Ante Šprlje minister for justice and Vlaho Orepić minister for the interior were dismissed. Maric eventually survived the vote, but the PrimeMminister needs parliamentary approval for the new ministers or call fresh elections. However, this will be clearer after the regional elections which will be held on 21 May and their runoff on 4 June.  

In the Czech Republic's, on 2 May Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka announced his and his government's resignation following a row with finance minister Andrej Babis over a conflict of interest. He was initially planning to tender his resignation to President Milos ZEMAN on 4 May, but then he decided not to. Instead he announced that he would suggest the dismissal of BABIS, who offered to step down to put an end to the political crisis, but under the condition he be replaced by his deputy Alena Schillerova. The next steps are still unclear, as well as whether snap elections will be called, less than six months before they were due.

In Finland, a mini reshuffle earlier this month saw Antti Häkkänen entering the government and taking over the justice portfolio from Jari Lindström, who remains minister for labour. Former MEP Sampo Terho joined the cabinet as European affairs minister and took over the culture and sports portfolio from Sanni Grahn-Laasonen, who remains in charge of education. Jari Leppä succeeded Kiimo Tiilikainen post as agriculture and forestry minister, while the latter was assigned the energy and housing portfolio in addition to environment.

All eyes are on France now and to a presidential election result that is considered as a watershed moment for France, as it marks a shift away from the parties that have traditionally governed the country. The election of the pro-European Emmanuel Macron with 66.1 per cent came as a relief in Europe. The 39-year-old former economy minister assumed his powers on 14 May, taking over from François Hollande. 

He recently announced the change of his party's name, which was formed just a year ago, from 'En Marche' to 'Republique en Marche' (Republic on the Move). Ahead of the legislative elections in June he also announced the names of its 428 candidates. Most of them have never held public office, and half the candidates are women. 

The coalition government in Austria was put into question following the resignation of Reinhold Mitterlehner, as Vice Chancellor and leader of conservative People's Party. Snap elections could be called.

Maltese voters will head to the polls earlier than expected, on 3 June, a move which is considered extraordinary for a member state holding the EU Council presidency. This comes amid Prime Minister Joseph Muscat and his wife's alleged involvement in the Panama Papers scandal. Muscat has denied any wrongdoing but has refused to appear before the Parliament's money laundering, tax avoidance and tax evasion inquiry committee, which is looking into the scandal. 

Over in the UK, Prime Minister Theresa May has called a snap election on 8 June, saying she was seeking a stronger mandate in the Brexit talks. She had previously repeatedly denied plans to call an election. While her decision was welcomed in Brussels, Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said this was a "huge political miscalculation". A number of UK MEPs have announced plans to stand in the election.

Meanwhile, discussions on relocating two EU agencies based in the UK – and how much this would cost – have started. The Netherlands and Spain have put Amsterdam and Barcelona forward as possible new host cities. No real decision is expected to be made before the UK elections. It now has to be seen whether May will get a stronger mandate to negotiate the future of the country post Brexit. In other possible complications, Northern Ireland has until 29 June to reach a power-sharing agreement, and Scotland is gearing up to hold a second independence referendum.

Later this year, in September, Germany will hold its own elections. Will former European Parliament President Martin Schulz nab Chancellor Angela Merkel's seat? Stay tuned.

 

About the author

Ifigenia Balkoura is editor of the European Union & Public Affairs Directory (EPAD).

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