Opinion: What’s going on in Brussels? Political groupings in the European Parliament

European Parliament chamber, StrasbourgFollowing on from my post last week on post-election developments in Brussels, here’s the first of two updates. Today’s will focus on developments concerning the formation of political groups in the Parliament itself whilst tomorrow’s will address issues regarding nominations to the European Commission.

Political parties have until tomorrow, June 24th to form their European Parliamentary groups. In order to qualify as a group, you not only need at least 25 MEPs but these must be drawn from at least 7 EU countries represented in the Parliament.

Nigel Farage has now been successful in cobbling together a group which meets both requirements (though it was only ever the 7 Member State criterion that was a problem for him as UKIP alone has 24 MEPs). His Europe of Freedom & Democracy (EFD) Group will now not only include the 17 MEPs from Italy’s Five Star Movement but Members from the Swedish Democrats and the Lithuania Order and Justice Party. The EFD Group will also include one MEP each from the Czech Free Citizens Party and the Union of Greens and Farmers’ group, and is completed by the admittance of France’s Joelle Bergeron MEP who quit the French National Front only two days after being elected!

Marine Le Pen, who leads the French National Front, is still struggling to get sufficient support from other parties for her new far-right European Alliance for Freedom in order to qualify as a political group.

The Alliance of Liberals & Democrats for Europe (ALDE) Group, in which the UK’s sole Lib Dem MEP Catherine Bearder sits was joined by four parties bringing its total numbers up to 67. This provided a brief moment of relief when the Liberals believed they might remain the third largest group after all. However, this was immediately overshadowed by the Flemish Nationalist N-VA party’s four MEPs joining the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) Group, despite ALDE Leader Guy Verhofstadt believing he had already successfully courted them for the Liberals. This took ECR’s numbers up to 68, overtaking ALDE and confirming its place as the third largest group.

ALDE losing its place as the largest group outside the main centre-right and centre-left groupings will almost certainly have consequences in terms of the distribution of important Committee places and other jobs in the European Parliament, diminishing the Liberal influence on the Parliament’s work. It now looks unlikely, for example, that ALDE will retain the crucial Chair of Parliament’s powerful Economic and Monetary Affairs Committee, a post held prior to the election by recently-retired British Liberal Democrat MEP Sharon Bowles (and previously by Chris Huhne during his time in Brussels).


* Matt McLaren is an elected member of the English Party Executive and the English Party’s representative on the Federal Conference Committee. In London Region, he is Vice-Chair of Enfield Liberal Democrats, a member of its Local Parties Committee and one of its elected representatives on the English Council. Matt is also currently a Liberal Democrat candidate for Enfield Council, standing in his home ward of Winchmore Hill.

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  • Antony Hook Antony Hook 23rd Jun '14 - 2:22pm

    Chris was on ECON but I don’t believe he was ever chair of it.

  • Charles Rothwell 23rd Jun '14 - 2:38pm

    Sounds as if uever-Thatcherite Farage is going to be right at home with the Czech Free Citizens Party:

    “The party can be described as libertarian with opposition to high government involvement in the economy[12][13] and personal lives,[14] and centralization of political power. Its members are advocates of the free market and often subscribe to the Austrian School of economic thought. They seek to lower tax rates and restrict state redistribution of wealth to a minimum,[13][15] and to limit the politicians’ powers, e.g., by introducing a constitutional amendment disallowing an unbalanced budget.[15]”

    I just pity the “useful idiots” who help the Kippers like my locally elected Kipper councillor who is a fireman and stood against “the political establishment” “as a protest against the cuts”. (“Blessed are….”)

    In terms of the Liberal block declining, the German FDP had hoped they could so somewhat better in the European elections than they did in the Federal elections when (for the first time since 1949) they failed to qualify to enter the Bundestag. In the end, though, their hopes were dashed when they got less than 4%. Shows liberalism is under severe strain from (in Northern Europe) the nationalist/isolationist right and (in parts of southern Europe) strong left-wing tendencies. Given the worst prolonged economic crisis for over 100 years, though, I suppose parallels with 1930s are not to be unanticipated (with the depletion of the centre ground).

  • Charles Rothwell 23rd Jun '14 - 2:57pm

    May be pre-empting the third part of Matt’s articles but the “don’t pass it on, but…” message on today’s BBC 2 “Daily Politics” is that the trade-off for Juncker getting his seat (and Merkel’s buying off her CDU party and coalition SPD) is that UK will get the ‘plum’ Commissioner job of finance and internal market. (If true, goes to explain why Lansley name has been wiped off the list of possible candidates; (“the man who brought you such stupendously successful NHS reform!”) Who is in the field instead? How about someone with a high position in HMG, a passionate European, ex-MEP, ex-Brussels insider/worker who speaks numerous languages, has an attractive non-British wife and who must be under a lot of strain in terms of UK politics at the moment and would therefore be ideally suited for a change of work/scenery?

  • paul barker 23rd Jun '14 - 3:11pm

    Ah, I was wondering how the Anti-Cleggites would get in on this thread ?

  • @Paul, it’s kind of irrelevant whether you’re pro or anti-Clegg, but it’s pretty obvious that he would be a great fit for the job. Putting him there would also be good for making the case for staying in Europe (which, if Cameron is to be believed, is what he wants.)

  • Sad news – that the Tory Group (for want of a better and more accurate name!) has overtaken the Lib and Dem Group. I can imagine all sorts of Tories giving out messages of “we was vindicated” – in their decision to leave the EPP. Unfortunately.

  • matt (Bristol) 23rd Jun '14 - 4:24pm

    Tim13 – shame the ECR didn’t put up an alternative to Juncker, then, if they really are a growing grouping with democratic legitimacy with an attractive agenda and not really solely a vehicle for Cameron’s (badly played) attempts at EU horse-trading.

  • jedibeeftrix 23rd Jun '14 - 5:15pm

    The story of how the four N-VA went missing:


    @ Tim – of course they were vindicated, a eurosceptic party had no place in a federalist group.

    @ Matt – putting up a spitzenkandidat and undermining the power of the Council would be the opposite goal to that which they seek.

  • “Putting him there would also be good for making the case for staying in Europe ”



  • I am concerned about the Party in Westminster’s attitude to what is happening in Brussels. I keep on hearing claims that all three main parliamentary parties oppose Juncker’s nomination. Does the Party in Westminster really want to associate itself with Cameron’s games? Of course such a claim could be made in that we backed Guy Van Verhofstadt, but Cameron and probably Miliband wish to deny the Lisbon agreement that clearly spelled out the democratic importance of the Parliament. This is widely rejected around the EU. Does the Parliamentary Party support the process? Does the Party support the process? – I thought we did.

  • Adam Robertson 24th Jun '14 - 12:59am

    I concur with Martin, that the Lisbon Treaty, allowed for the European Parliament to have a say on the next Commission President. I think this is the democratic right thing to do under the circumstances. However, this does question the UK’s relationship with the European Union, are we prepared to accept this or call a referendum and call for out. I am under the impression, that the Liberal Democrats, supported the Lisbon Treaty, this is partially why, I am a Liberal Democrat.

    I have reservations about Mr Juncker, but he can not be hold responsible that there is no British representative within the European People’s Party, that is the responsibility of Mr Cameron. David Cameron should be explaining, why he left the EPP and could therefore, not get a more amenable person for the role. One could argue that it is Mr Cameron’s fault alone in this facade, he is trying to carry out.

  • I have to say, I fear that Mr Juncker has been badly misrepresented by TV media in this country. A particular piece of footage has been used esp by BBC, which will have influenced us all about him. We are familiar with this process of demonisation of people. Unless you are a saint (or a former PR person!!) anyone can be demonised in this way. Sorry, got it wrong, even some who are former PRs can come over spectacularly badly in some situations.

  • matt (Bristol) 24th Jun '14 - 10:27am

    Paul Barker: Ah, I was wondering how the Anti-Cleggites would get in on this thread ?

    Love him or loathe him or something in between (the latter is my position), Nick Clegg has had future ‘EU commissioner – please handle with care and return to Brussels’ tattooed secretly on his spine for some time…

  • Tim13: You are right about selective clips. How well would anyone present themselves in their fourth language? Juncker’s mistake in the ad hoc circumstances was to even attempt a reply in English.

    Some of the Greeks may criticise Juncker from his position as President of the Eurogoup, but otherwise there has been little criticism and almost nothing in the UK media. The criticism is more basic than that: anti Euro posturing has translated directly into opposition to Juncker. If Juncker is to be criticised it should be on his record, not as sour grapes from those who once claimed that the Euro would fall apart by Christmas.

    The likelihood is that Juncker will be pressing for reform, but probably the kind of reform that Cameron would oppose. The UK needs to understand that having placed itself outside the Eurogroup, its position will always be on the periphery.

    The key event will be whenever Poland adopts the Euro. Cameron’s behaviour has probably brought forward the likeihood of this happening. The size of Poland means that it could emerge as one of the big players alongside Germany, France and Italy.

    Any anti Euro position from anyone in the UK is basically a non starter, it is simply self exclusion from the discussion. If the UK is not to join the Euro, the alternative, in or out of the EU, is to work out how the Pound, and the City, can co-exist alongside a larger and more powerful Euro.

  • Martin – I agree wholeheartedly.

  • re: UKIP and the EFD Group
    Although only time will tell, it seems that UKIP might be changing!
    Whilst todate we were under the impression that UKIP was aiming for a UK exit from the EU and that it wouldn’t engage with the EU even if it was drawing salaries etc. This action would seem to indicate that UKIP are prepared to work within the EU framework, the only question is just how much. I wonder whether they think that the opportunity is there to effect change from within the EU rather than simply walking away and then trying to negotiate a favourable trade agreement…

  • “Nonetheless, the UKIP attendance and voting record from the last Parliament speaks for itself in terms of their willingness to represent their constituents’ interests in Brussels”

    You still don’t get the whole point of UKIP do you? 🙂 Has it occurred to you that the great British public given the choice to have you, the Lib Dems, the rabid, unthinking ideological apologists for this failed European Union, or UKIP who want us out, chose to elect 24 of us and ahem this http://www.libdems.org.uk/meps ?

    How exactly are YOU representing the British people in the European Parliament??? And has it occurred to you that maybe they don’t want representing they want out?

    Oh yes it has, that is why you won’t give the people a referendum on the subject. That is really REPRESENTING us all isn’t it?

  • @Matt
    “Nigel Farage keeping his platform to launch tirades”

    Perhaps he would not be able to attack if there was some reform of the EU, like not having the parliament moving between two locations. Is it so hard to admit that problems exist?

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