International observers continue to discuss potential changes in European politics that can be followed after the election of conservative Italian Antonio Tajani as the new President of the European Parliament (EP) in the fourth round of voting in Strasbourg on 17 January 2017.
The situation has become of particular interest after the breakup of the grand coalition between the two main factions of the European Parliament under which the European People’s Party (EPP) and the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats( S&D) have rotated the presidency.
According to some analysts, the end of the cooperation in the framework of the so-called grand coalition will lead to instability in the European Parliament as the most important institution of the European Union.
For instance, Bernd Riegert from Deutsche Welle (DW) called the collapse of the coalition a serious political problem that requires an urgent solution.
“Now it is necessary to form a hardly alternating majority. This will cost time and make decisions unpredictable. More often than before, a key role may be played by hostile European populists. European legislation may slow down and become less effective,” he said in his article.
According to him, the work of the new head of the European Parliament will be very different from the presidency of Martin Schulz.
“Schulz took advantage of the protocol office to engage in politics, create a parliamentary majority and seek compromises with the Council of Europe and the European Commission. He expanded his powers. He gave the Parliament a face and a stage. Tajani will rather work at low pressure. He has little ambition and will play a representative role rather than act,” DW’s columnist suggested.
According to him, the EP President’s functions will be soon reduced to the implementation of usual duties.
“In public perception, the European Parliament will sink back into insignificance. The parliament will lose its face: at least in the largest country of the EU, Germany, where Martin Schulz is considered a possible candidate for Chancellor or Head of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs,” Bernd Riegert stressed.
Meanwhile, Christophe Crombez, Professor of Political Economy at the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Senior Research Scholar at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies at Stanford University, shared the view that the breakdown of factional agreement laid the groundwork for more clearly defined policy choices
The breakup of the grand coalition of the two main groups, the EPP and the S&D, allows the EP to make clear policy choices rather than seek compromises between the two main groups, he said.
“The two largest groups have typically cooperated in the EP and beyond to divide important positions and set policies together, often with the additional support of ALDE. This cooperation made it possible for the EU to function relatively smoothly in spite of the high majority thresholds in the EP and Council. However, it required major policy compromise. The breakup of the power-sharing arrangement in the EP allows for clearer policy choices, provided that one of the two largest groups is able to set policy without the other,” he wrote in a blog.
In his opinion, the end of the grand coalition offers new opportunities for the different political groups.
“At first it seemed that the EPP was the main beneficiary of the new arrangement, since it managed to regain control of the EP Presidency. However, the S&D rather than the EPP terminated the grand coalition […] In recent years the S&D has lost the support of many of its core voters, to the centre-right, radical right and radical left, both at the EU and national levels. The current situation may allow the S&D to re-define what it stands for and re-connect with its voters. It may result in the S&D moving to the left and forging closer ties with the Greens and radical left,” Christophe Crombez said.
In turn, MEP from Austria Eugen Freund reminded that the Social Democratic Group has consistently pointed out that it would be unfair to its policy goals to have all European institutions chaired by conservative politicians.
“Martin Schulz and Antonio Tajani are totally different personalities and come from different political parties. One has to give Martin Schulz credit to have raised the awareness and the stature of the European parliament; nowadays European summits are inconceivable without the parliament’s president present. This part, I am sure, will also be adopted by Antonio Tajani, but he has to grow into his role. It remains to be seen how long it will take him to be acknowledged the same way Martin Schulz was,” the politician told PenzaNews.
According to him, most of the unresolved problems in the EU stem from the fact that the member states refuse to sign on to policies that either the commission or the parliament have subscribed to.
“Looked at from that perspective it will remain difficult to put pressure on the various governments to resolve the crises, even if you have a president of the parliament who may aggressively pursuing positive changes,” Eugen Freund said.
He also stressed that counteracting such global challenges as terrorism, requires from the EU parallel consideration of European policies in handling the migration crisis and its policies vis-a-vis Russia.
“We have learned from history that Europe may not become renowned for acting swiftly but, over time, does act in order to meet the challenges it faces,” the MEP said.
Meanwhile, Roberto Castaldi, Research Director of International Centre for European and global governance, Director of the Research Centre on Multi-Level Integration and Governance Processes at eCampus University, shared the view that Antonio Tajani will probably have a hard time tough being the EP President.
“He is a very experienced European figure, as he served for over two decades in the European Parliament and in the European Commission. I expect him to work hard to ensure a smooth functioning of the EP because he will not want observers to believe that he is less able than Schulz in steering the EP. However, he will probably have a hard time tough,” the analyst suggested.
At the same time, common challenges and problems promote closer cooperation and interaction between the states of the European Union, he believes.
“Not even the worse terrorist attack, the drawning of so many migrants on the Mediterranean and the difficult geopolitical situation have so far pushed member states to accept the necessary sharing of sovereignty to create a European intelligence, security agency and a single European asylum policy and border and coastal control. Antonio Tajani and the EP will probably ask for new European means and policies. But the ultimate decisions stay with member states,” Roberto Castaldi said.
However, he will try to ensure that the Parliament gets a say on any new policy that members states may decide to set up at European level, he said.
“Given his past experience in the Commission he may try to work to ensure the continuation of the smooth cooperation and alliance between the Parliament and the Commission. […] The main political issue to evaluate the Tajani presidency will be his ability to bring the EP to fully exploit all its powers, including the possibility to table a comprehensive Treaty reform proposal by the end of the legislature. This will be the real test of his leadership in the EP,” Roberto Castaldi concluded.