Time for change in Brussels
In the wake of the European elections in May, the Parliament has been back in Strasbourg last week for its first inaugural plenary session. With EPP, the centre right party, topping the election, its candidate Jean Claude Juncker was able to secure the support to become the President elect of the European Commission 2014-2019 despite fierce opposition from UK Prime Minister David Cameron. Juncker is expected to be approved by Parliament this week on Tuesday 15th July. In Strasbourg, this left Martin Schulz, a German socialist from Aachen, to be re-elected as the European Parliament’s President for the first 2 ½ years of the new mandate. After Mr. Schulz's term is over, the Presidency will go to either a member of the EPP or the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe.
Following last week’s session in Strasbourg, chairs and vice chairs of the Parliament’s new committees have also been elected. Giovanni La Via MEP was duly elected chair of the Parliament’s Environment committee with Benedek Jávor MEP from the Green Party elected as the committee’s first vice-chair. Proceedings were though complicated by a pact between EPP and Socialists (S&D) to block chair or vice chair positions going to any EFDD party members. In the end, the environment committee elected Romanian socialist Daciana Sârbu MEP as second vice chair and blocked EFDD members from the 3rd and 4th positions as well. Mr Jávor, a Hungarian biologist and politician has only just been elected to Parliament for the first time.
Meanwhile, several of the EU’s other top jobs are on the table. The Presidency of the European Council will see Socialist Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt and EPP Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte go head to head for that position now. Italy's Foreign Minister Federica Mogherini is the front-runner to become the EU's foreign policy chief. With Jean Claude Juncker expected to be voted in by Parliament this week, the new President’s attention will turn to the selection of Commissioners for the new Commission college 2014-2019. Juncker will have to negotiate with each of the member states but already concern is mounting over the lack of women being nominated by member states.
EU leaders gather in Brussels for first discussions on the Commission team this week (16th July). Although member states have until mid-September to finalise their nominations, the Commission President will only be able to confirm the new college once the proposed Commissioners have been scrutinised in individual hearings before Parliament committees during September. In October, the European Parliament is expected to vote to approve or reject the new Commission College as a whole. This will allow the new European Commission to take office on 1st November 2014. On the environment front, Phil Hogan, the Irish Environment Minister is tipped to become the new Environment Commissioner replacing Janez Potočnik when he steps down in October. However, Mr Hogan, who was nominated for the post by Taoiseach Enda Kenny on Friday, faces opposition from a number of Ireland's MEPs. They want Mr Hogan to be questioned about recent environmental controversies during his tenure as Environment Minister, when he comes before a hearing of MEPs. ENEP’s GA side event takes place on Thursday 9th October, where ENEP members attending will get a valuable insight into the new European Commission and the likely environment priorities that may emerge.