Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The ECR Group

The big news from Strasbourg this week is that a Pole, the respected Jerzy Buzek, has been elected President of the European Parliament. This is supposed to be a watershed moment for the EU, since it's the first time that someone from a "New Member State" (i.e. one of the ex-Communist Member States) has got the top job in a European Union institution.

But this is hardly news - the deal to elect Buzek was made weeks ago, and the result was never in doubt. Much more exciting was the drama of the elections for the EP's 14 Vice-President jobs. As expected, most went to the two bigs groups - 5 for the centre-right EPP, and 5 for the Socialists, 2 for the Liberals, and 1 for the Greens. The UK Conservative Party's new ECR grouping, with the same number of MEPs (55) as the Greens, and at the joint 4th-largest group in the EP, expected to have its own Vice-President, and had put forward Polish MEP Michał Kamiński. The assumption made by observers is that this was the price that the Conservatives paid for the support of the Law and Justice (PiS) Party in creating the new, anti-integrationist group.

But when UK Conservative MEP Edward McMillan-Scott ran against Kamiński and won, his party kicked him out in outrage. McMillan-Scott is one of the Conservative MEPs who was against party leader David Cameron's withdrawal of his party from the EPP-ED group, and this may have been his final act of protest; he is not expected to run for election again in 5 years' time.

There are all sorts of reasons why this is interesting.

1. If McMillan-Scott leaves the ECR group, it will slip to 5th-largest in the EP. This may have an impact on its ability to obtain key positions of power, such as committee chairmanships.

2. It will doubtless damage relations between the Conservatives and PiS. PiS' penchant for grudge politics is well-known in Poland; the Conservatives may find themselves on the sharp end quite soon.

3. Kamiński has been elected leader of the group. It is not clear to me what the timing was here. Normally the largest national delegation in a group gets the leadership of the group, so this job would have fallen to a Brit. But it may be that Kamiński was given the job as a sop by the Conservatives to apologise for the debacle in the Vice-Presidential vote (see Daniel Hannan's blog piece on this).

4. The ECR group is fragile as it is. It needs MEPs from 7 countries, which it has just managed. Only 5 of the MEPs are the only representatives of their countries in the group. That means that any one of them can hold the entire group to ransom. It will be interesting to see whether the Kamiński/McMillan-Scott affair will destabilise the group.

5. It is not clear whether McMillan-Scott will remain in the group or not. But if he doesn't, it would dent the Conservatives' assertion that leaving the EPP-ED will not affect their ability to get top jobs in the EP.

Watch this space.

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