Grand European coalition shattered as 2014 written agreement for European Parliament succession comes to light

OLIVIER HOSLET

The re-elected President of the European Parliament Martin Schulz (L) is greeted by Chairman of the EPP Group in the European Parliament Manfred Weber (C) and Guy Verhofstadt (R), the leader of the ALDE Liberal group at the European Parliament, during plenary session at European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, 01 July 2014 (photo reissued 06 January 2017). Media reports on 06 January 2017 citing a tweet by Verhofstadt say that the former Belgian Prime Minister is running for the post of the President of the European Parliament, to replace German Martin Schulz.

It was not demonstrably public that the grand coalition between the EPP, ALDE, and S&D Groups in the European Parliament was based on a written agreement. Two political groups are now backing down from the signed document’s commitments.


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The revelation of the secret letter of agreement between European Conservatives (EPP), Social Democrats (S&D), and Liberals (ALDE) in the European Parliament on Tuesday brings to light the written agreement behind the worst kept political secret in Brussels.

The June 24, 2014 agreement is signed by Martin Schulz, who was leading the S&D group as its acting head at the time and Manfred Weber, leading the EPP group. Guy Verhofstadt brought his Group on board with a secondary annex signed two days later. The agreement entails the understanding that the EPP and S&D will each get one President between 2014 and 2019 for two and a half years each.

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Honouring the agreement Martin Schulz stepped down in November 2016, aspiring to play a role in Germany following legislative elections this autumn. The public broadcaster DW says he is tapped to become the future foreign minister of a broad coalition government.

However, the agreement for the succession of Schultz in Brussels has been broken. The S&D’s Gianni Pittella is the candidate of his Group, and Guy Verhofstadt is also the nominee of ALDE to succeed Schulz.

Both groups are now arguing that all top EU officers are taken up by EPP members, that is, the President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, and the President of the European Council Donald Tusk. In addition, the S&D calls into question the nomination of former Commissioner Antonio Tajani.

The S&D claims that this agreement was part of a broader agreement according to which the Presidency of the Council should have gone to an individual representing their political party at the European level.

While the position and nomination of Gianni Pittella for the S&D  presents a problem for S&D in that it is backing down from a written agreement, it is unclear whether Pittella was aware of the existence of a formal, signed agreement. Furthermore, Pittella was called to respect an agreement signed by his predecessor, Martin Schulz,  who was ‘acting’ Chairman of the S&D for the signing of the agreement, putting himself in power and not himself.

Meanwhile, the situation is worse for Guy Verhofstadt, who was a personal signatory to an annex signed two days later bring ALDE on board with the agreement to secure an extra vice-presidency in the European Parliament. Not only has Verhofstadt not followed through on the commitments made on the written agreement, but he has put himself forward as his political group’s nominee.

Writing to the MEPs of the European People’s Party yesterday made public by New Europe below, Manfred Weber said:

“Now it is also time for the S&D and the ALDE Groups to comply with the agreement. The following days will reveal if the signatures of Martin Schulz and Guy Verhofstadt in the name of their Groups can be relied upon, or if they will break their word. Some are now making wild assertions in order to question this agreement. All these assertions are wrong. The agreement, for example, does not include any connection with other EU Institutions. To make this clear once and for all, I am joining a copy of the signed agreement to this letter. It is a long and positive tradition that the S&D and the EPP Groups take turns in the leadership of the European Parliament. The two biggest Groups carry a particular responsibility for Europe. This is why Democrats have to seek the compromise.”

The conclusion to be drawn is that a political agreement spanning an electoral term between even the most traditional European political powers cannot be kept; a sad realisation for the balance of power in the European Union.

Otherwise, there would be no candidate from ALDE, and no candidate from the S&D without Pittella publically breaking eggs with Martin Schulz, saying that he signed an agreement to extend his very own Presidency of the Parliament, and not for the good of his own political group.

Regardless of the current situation, Weber is confident of an EPP  victory “we want to win and we will win next week,” he wrote to his Group’s MEPs.

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