A different wind in Strasbourg

First plenary session of the European Assembly. Schulz: "I hope in the visit of Pope Francis"

There’s a Spanish MEP wandering around the corridors in search of the lift that will bring him to the floor where is located the office he has been just assigned to. Near him, a Hungarian parliamentarian is asking about the interpretation service. The Scottish representative passes by wearing a kilt, the French one entertains collaborators and journalists delving into the specific features of the cheeses of his homeland. The first plenary meeting of the 2014-2019 legislature will bring to Strasbourg 751 MEPs elected with universal suffrage, with an entourage of officers, translators, assistants and secretaries, along with Television, web and press correspondents. Offices are being reorganized: boxes, family pictures are showcased desks, some spare blouses and skirts. The sitting was inaugurated after the raising of the 12-star flag, while the “hymn of joy” played on the background of the official emblem of European integration: but at that point, a small group of “no-Europe” MEPs turned their backs…national, regional, and sub-regional flags were swiftly hung at the upper floors of the “great tower”, the official seat of the EU Assembly in the Alsatian city. Election, balance, programmes. The works of the inaugural session will take place July 1-3. On the agenda figure the president’s election, that of 14 Vice-Presidents and 5 Quaestors, followed by a debate on the outcomes of the European Council of June 26-27 with president Herman Van Rompuy; an overview of the Greek rotating presidency with Premier Antonis Samaras and a discussion on the program of the Italian presidency in the second semester of 2014 with Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and the outgoing president of the Commission José Manuel Barroso. As of July 7, 20 Commissions involving MEPs’ activity will become operative. During the second plenary of July 14-17 MEPs will elect the next president of the EU Commission, whose designated candidate is Jean-Claude Juncker (Luxembourg). The “heart of democracy”. “I hope to be worthy of your trust”. Martin Schulz was re-elected President of the European Parliament in the first ballot on July 1st. 723 out of 751 MEPs voted; 111 blank or invalid votes. An absolute majority of 307 votes cast were required to be elected. Schulz won 409 out of 612 valid votes (amounting to the sum of EPP and Socialists & Democrats, distant from a majority with the Liberal ALDE that would have secured approximately 480 votes). Mr Schulz is the first EP President to be re-elected for a second term. “Thank you for your trust”, Schulz said in a short acceptance speech. “Our Parliament is the heart of European democracy”. The president recalled that the Assembly is going to elect the new head of the Commission. He said: “It’s a fundamental step. A new process is under way that will bring a major change within the EU”. “We’re facing major challenges”. He added: “Youth unemployment, inequalities between social classes, between countries, between men and women”. Schulz referred to the situation in Ukraine, Syria, Iraq and the Middle East. He then spoke about a set of decisions that need to be made “for citizens and businesses” regarding the economy, banking union, and energy. He addressed the issues of human dignity, justice and peace: “We have to show people that we are here for them”. As he exited the hemicycle the newly-elected EP president was surrounded by reporters, I would be very happy – he said – if the Pope accepted to visit the European Parliament”. A different wind is blowing. A different wind is blowing in the European Parliament. Euro-critics and anti-euro troops represent a third of all MEPs, despite internal divisions. The Parliament is acquiring greater powers and visibility within the Community building process and MEPs are well aware of it. Debates are growing hotter and discussions on the future of the Union recur in all meetings. Moreover, also the “face” of the European Parliament is changing. For example, women MEPs elected May 22-25 rose to 37% (previously, 35%). It’s the highest percentage of women MEPs in the history of the European Parliament. In the first election at universal suffrage in 1979, women were only 16% of all MEPs. These figures are coupled by greater fragmentation. In fact, although there still are 7 political groups, as in the previous legislature, 186 national parties and movements are now represented in the Assembly (165 in the previous term). Albeit smaller, the EPP remains the largest political group with 221 seats; S&D (Socialists and Democrats) 191 seats. ECR (Conservative) are now the third group, with 70 MEPs, ALDE (Liberal-Democrats) 67, GUE/NGL (unitary Left) 52, Greens/ALE 50, EFD (European Freedom and Democracy, euro-sceptic group), 48. Non-attached MEPs – that include the French nationalists of Marine Le Pen – amount to 52. The youngest MEP is Anders Primdhal Vistisen (Denmark), 26; the oldest is Emmanouil Glezos (Greece), 91.

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