La Rentrée: New Parliament, new ambitions

Written by The Parliament Magazine on 13 September 2019 in Opinion
Opinion

May’s European elections now a distant memory, the start of a new five-year parliamentary term has triggered a “wish list” of ambitions from political group leaders.

Photo credit: European Parliament Audiovisual


The EU-wide poll resulted in a dramatic fragmentation of the parliament which has just resumed its work after the summer recess with the EU arguably facing some of its biggest challenges in its history, ranging from the Brexit saga and migration to the EU budget and the rise of populist and nationalist parties in various parts of Europe.

For Manfred Weber, leader of the EPP, which is still easily the biggest group, the start of the new mandate is “time to fight for a democratic Europe.” The coming term will, he predicts, be an intense ‘rentrée’.

The German, who unsuccessfully stood for the Commission presidency, said, “The recent elections showed that European citizens are seeking a greater say in the decisions being made in Brussels, and that expect their representatives to deliver on their commitments.”

“This is what we in the EPP campaigned for over recent months, this is what we promised our citizens, and this is what we will do in the next five years.”


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“Digitisation, trade, migration, security, the fight against climate change, jobs and growth - on all these issues, the world will not wait for Europe. Our priority will be to make sure that Europe can act and deliver in the interest of its citizens.”

With populism on the rise, and with a Parliament more politically-fragmented than ever before, “this will not be an easy task,” he cautions, adding, “However, the group is determined to lead the battle, together with a strong and competent EPP in the new Commission.”

“We will also continue to fight for a more democratic Europe, one that is closer to its citizens. I am convinced that this is the only way to ensure citizens continue to support the European project in the long term.”

Iratxe Garcia, leader of the S&D, which suffered electoral losses in May but is again the second-biggest grouping, says that while climate change is a priority, “Europe needs decisive, urgent action in many policy areas.”

The Spaniard, an MEP since 2004, added, “The group is ready to work to make sure that the EU adopts progressive legislation. However, we need to have a strong Commission in place as soon as possible.”

“Our first priority will be to engage constructively in the commissioner candidate hearings, both to ensure they are able to address policies coherently and to be certain there is gender balance in the college.”

“We will also continue to fight for a more democratic Europe, one that is closer to its citizens. I am convinced that this is the only way to ensure citizens continue to support the European project in the long term” Manfred Weber

One of the major legislative proposals, she adds, is the long-term budget for the EU, the next MMF.

On this, she said, “We have set ambitious political goals and make sure that there are appropriate resources available.”

There are several matters the Commission president needs to urgently address and one of them is migration, says Garcia.

“This humanitarian crisis cannot wait. The president must act during her first 100 days in office to break the deadlock in the European Council and reform the EU asylum system.”

“The climate emergency is also so “acute” the EU “cannot waste any more time. The UN will hold the Climate Action Summit on 23 September and, insists Garcia, it should be made clear that the EU is willing to “take the lead” in multilateral eff orts to curb global warming and CO2 emissions.”

“Ms von der Leyen has promised a climate law and a carbon tax, and we would like it to be one of the first pieces of legislation Parliament discusses.”

“We also expect proposals for strengthening the Social Pillar and legislative action to eradicate violence against women.”

Leader of the newly-named Renew Europe (RE) group (formerly ALDE), Dacian Cioloș, described May’s elections as a “historic moment,” adding, “Faced with existential challenges, from the rise of the far-right populism to a climate emergency and threats to European stability, European citizens expressed themselves in larger numbers than ever before.

“The big winner was the RE. As a coalition of progressive liberals, this is an opportunity for renewal. No solid majority will be possible in parliament without us.”

The Romanian member said voters had “given a voice to create a stronger Europe for the future.”

"Ms von der Leyen has promised a climate law and a carbon tax, and we would like it to be one of the first pieces of legislation Parliament discusses. We also expect proposals for strengthening the Social Pillar and legislative action to eradicate violence against women" Iratxe Garcia

The former Romanian PM said, “It is our duty to deliver on this mandate in all areas, from tackling climate and environmental challenges, enhancing European security, delivering a European approach to migration and asylum flows while preserving economic stability and prosperity.”

“One of our first tasks is to work with, and hold to account, the Commission President-elect. By proposing a number of highly-talented female commissioners, the RE family has already taken the lead in ensuring gender balance in the new commission.”

“We will seek to prioritise the values and ambitions of the founding fathers of the EU, updating them to current times.”

“We believe that Ms von der Leyen’s proposal to deliver a ‘Conference on the Future of Europe’ involving NGOs and citizens has important potential. Our priority will be to ensure it has an ambitious scope.”

“We intend to deliver on the mandate our citizens have set for us. By working with other political groups, we aim to build a stronger, more participatory EU, ready for future challenges.”

Raffaele Fitto, ECR co-leader, also points out that the nominated commissioners will soon have to present themselves before MEPs in keenly awaited hearings.

Fitto said, “The most immediate political issue to deal is the election of the new Commission. The only vote that MEPs have now is on the college of Commissioners as a whole.”

Ahead of the vote, the candidate commissioners will have to present themselves in hearings with the relevant committees for their designated areas of work. These committees will then write to the Parliament’s Conference of Presidents, passing judgment on their suitability.

Fitto says, “Parliament has often used the leverage it has over the final vote to call for replacements, usually only where it has doubts over the candidates’ aptitude for the role. Now, however, with the old majority of the EPP and Socialists finally broken, we can be sure of some political gamesmanship. We in the ECR expect to be fully involved in this process.”

"We believe that Ms von der Leyen’s proposal to deliver a ‘Conference on the Future of Europe’ involving NGOs and citizens has important potential. Our priority will be to ensure it has an ambitious scope" Dacian Cioloș

The next MMF also needs to be finalised, said Fitto, adding, “This will be high on most people’s radar, particularly that of the ECR as we now have the chair of Parliament’s Budgets Committee in our group.”

“Our MEPs on other committees will also have their work cut out, after the Commission President-elect made some eye catching, and in some cases not particularly coherent, proposals. Having promised a number of these within the first 100 days, and with Brexit to deal with, it is going to be a busy few months,” noted Fitto.

For Martin Schirdewan, co-leader of the left-wing GUE/NGL, social equality is a priority. He said, “We are the only Parliamentary group to have presented the upcoming Commission president with key demands to begin fixing the entrenched crisis Europe faces.”

“We will hold the Commission and Council to account on these demands; which represent the progressive and social response to the divisive politics of the far right and a vehicle for social justice for all.”

Three key issues stand out, he says. “First, we need radical action on the climate catastrophe. The heat waves, droughts and forest fires common in Europe indicate the need for urgent action. We demand bold targets and binding action to achieve 100 percent renewable energy by 2050.”

“This emergency must be tackled in all spheres and reflected in the CAP, with more support for small, local and ethical producers, enhanced food safety, consumer protection and animal welfare.”

“Second, Ursula von der Leyen’s promise to introduce a digital tax, while laudable, is insufficient. With free and universal health and education under attack, billions of euros of public money are still squandered every year through tax dodging, tax evasion, money laundering and corruption.”

“We demand a genuine EU blacklist of all tax havens, including those of EU member states and countries currently listed in the ‘grey’ list. We reject a race to the bottom on corporate income tax.”

The third issue, he says, is that “Donald Trump and the far right are pushing the world to the edge of war and Europe is simply following.

We reject militarisation, Fortress Europe and the continuous loss of innocent lives through wars that we, directly and indirectly, foment.

The Left will remain the voice in Parliament for peaceful conflict resolution through the UN, for respecting international law and defending disarmament.”

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