Postcard from Strasbourg by Richard Steel

Dear Fred,
Has the EPP finally lost patience with its enfant terrible, Viktor Orban, and is it ready to expel his party from the group? Over half of the 216 EPP members either supported, or abstained, in the vote on a cross-party resolution calling for the launch of the article 7 procedure.

While leader Manfred Weber was reluctantly prepared to give the Hungarian leader one last chance, there was no disguising that he held out little hope of a change of heart. So where next for the 12 Fidesz MEPs? The most obvious choice is to move to the ECR and sit alongside fellow trouble-makers, the Polish Law and Justice MEPs. With the Tories about to leave, they could do with some reinforcements. It would turn the ECR into a mini Visegrad group, giving them a bigger platform within the parliament to push their alternative scenario on the future of Europe debate.

How many existing Tory MEPs remain in the ECR is a moot point as many of them have made an unseemly rush to the exit door, looking for new lives as MPs in Westminster. Few of them made it through the interview stages, with dark mutterings of interference from Tory high command. The most prominent escapee is Vicky Ford, whose vacant seat as IMCO chair will re-boot all those arguments about Brits holding positions of influence. But would a Polish chair be any more palatable to those plotting a coup? Or even a Hungarian if they were to jump ship from the EPP – or were pushed overboard?

Reports of the demise of the grand coalition may be exaggerated as the EPP and Socialists showed once again what a force they can be when working together. The issue at stake was both procedural and highly political. The reform of the audio-visual media rules had drawn complaints from the outset given the “iron pact” between the two German co-rapporteurs from the EPP and Socialists. The fact both of them sit on the board of a German public broadcaster simply added to the sense of foreboding amongst those MEPs who feared an old-fashioned stitch-up. The rapporteurs successfully steered their report through committee and were given a mandate to start negotiations with Council. However under new rules introduced earlier this year, plenary has the chance to over-turn the decision and re-open the file to plenary amendments. Heavy lobbying from both the tech and health sectors failed to reverse the decision but MEPs have now woken up to the implications of the new rule and the issue of whether it should be committees or plenary that ultimately decide. This could have an impact on future files, like the clean energy package, where several committees have been battling for months over who should lead.

It’s not just British MEPs on the move. The plenary bid farewell to two new ministers in the Macron government, Sylvie Goulard and Marielle de Sarnez, and more than a dozen French MEPs and officials will take part in the legislative campaign. Philippe Lamberts, co-leader of the Greens, claimed he had not followed his predecessor, Dany Cohn-Bendit, in becoming a Macron convert, but that was before we learned leading ecologist Nicolas Hulot had joined the government. Manfred Weber welcomed the result as a victory for Europe, and while he acknowledged Macron’s view that EU treaty change was no longer taboo, he felt a lot could still be achieved under the existing legal framework and treaty change was not a priority.

Amitiés,

Richard