Martin Schulz comes and Martin Schulz goes

Labour Party

Having been elevated to the dizzy heights of President of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz has just been replaced by Hannes Swoboda as Leader (President) of the Socialist and Democrat Group.

Akin to the Speaker of the House of Commons, the President of the European Parliament is an influential post with the incumbent representing the EuroParl across the world. Likewise, Leader of the S & D Group, the second largest in the Parliament, is no mean job. It carries power and respect and is important in EU politics.

While I am pleased that a Socialist and Democrat was elected President of the European Parliament on the first ballot – 387 for Schulz, 142 for the ECR’s Nerj Deva and 141 for Diana Wallis, a Lib-Dem and one of the sitting parliamentary Vice-Presidents – the way in which the election was contested caused concern.

First and foremost, nothing was done to address the accusation that the election process is a stitch-up between the two largest political groups in the European Parliament, the European People’s Party (EPP) and the S & D Group. At the beginning of the current mandate in 2009, the EPP and the S & D did a deal whereby the EPP would hold the President position for the first half of the five year parliament then the S & D would take over. Such deals are always taken seriously and almost always hold, as happened today.

Such a way of operating leaves the smaller groups out in the cold, and makes it difficult for members of the two big groups to vote another way, secret ballot notwithstanding.  It is therefore not really democratic.

The Independent this morning ran a sadly British take on the election of the President of the European Parliament, maintaining that there is an anti-British bias. I’m not too sure that this was indeed the case, in spite of David Cameron’s stupid behaviour at the recent Brussels summit which marginalised the UK as one against 26. I am, however, certain that the European Parliament should stop accepting deals such as the one we saw today if it is to be at all credible.

The same goes for the election for the new Leader of the S & D Group which was called to fill the vacancy caused by Martin Schulz’s elevation. Won by the Austrian Hannes Swoboda, the EPLP candidate, Stephen Hughes did not fare too well, the result being Swoboda 102 and Hughes 37 with the French contender Catherine Trautmann securing 45 votes.

It is time the European Parliament sorted itself out and held open elections. All the political groups should stand a chance of gaining the highest positions. It would, in addition, be good to see more female and ethnic minority faces.

Stephen Hughes for President of the Socialist and Democrat Group

Labour Party

I’m very pleased that my colleague, North-East MEP Stephen Hughes, is running for the leadership (President as they call it here) of the Socialist and Democrat Group in the European Parliament. European Voice ran this article last week indicating that the contest has now begun, assuming, of course, that the vacancy for Group President is actually created due to Martin Schulz taking over as President of the European Parliament.

Stephen will make an excellent Group leader.  He has huge experience of economic and social issues, having been Chair and Socialist Group Co-ordinator of the Employment and Social Affairs Committee. Stephen deserves a medal for his long service as an MEP, 26 years in all. With this has come considerable knowledge of the Socialist and Democrat Group, the European Parliament and how to get things done in this place.

The great thing about Stephen is that he listens and part of his election platform is to listen to Group members and develop a common purpose. I am sure I”m not alone in welcoming this. Those in leadership positions sometimes have a tendency to carry on without taking the views of their supporters into account. I’m confident Stephen will not do that and will represent Socialist and Democrat MEPs in a fair and reasonable way. 

We will vote on the President position at the mid-point of the current parliamentary mandate, sometime at the end of 2011 or the beginning of 2012. This obviously means a long campaign and I will try and keep you updated as much as possible.