The Grand Coalition is dead: Long live the Centre-Right

EU Parliament's presidential candidates Pittella, Verhofstadt and Tajani attend a debate in BrusselsThe so-called Grand Coalition between the European People’s Party and the Socialists in the European Parliament was well and truly killed this morning. In its place is emerging a new centre-right coalition of EPP and Liberals (ALDE).

The European Parliament is meeting this morning in Strasbourg to elect its new President, or speaker, following the failure of Socialist Martin Schulz to stay in power for a third two-and-a-half year term. Schulz had kept his position thanks to a signed agreement between his S&D Group and the conservative EPP Group. His departure meant the collapse of this “Grand Coalition” which had reflected a similar power-sharing arrangement in Germany.

The S&D had blithely declared that they no longer considered themselves bound by the agreement and put forward their own candidate for the EP presidency, Group Chair Gianni Pittella. Furious, the EPP went ahead with selecting their candidate, another Italian, former European Commissioner Antonio Tajani. They also made clear that what they say as a betrayal and breach of their word by the Socialists would result in the EPP looking elsewhere to manage the European Parliament in the second half of the parliamentary term, leading up to the European elections in 2019.

Meanwhile, the end of the Grand Coalition opened the floodgates for a raft of candidates, one from every Political Group in the House, including the leader of the Liberal ALDE Group, former Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt, who tried to pitch himself as a centrist “compromise candidate”. However, Verhofstadt’s cynical opportunism blew up in his face spectacularly last week when his own group refused to back the incorporation of MEPs from the Eurosceptic Five Star Movement from Italy into ALDE.

In a dramatic development this morning in Strasbourg, a new centre-right coalition has emerged to replace the EPP-S&D one. In a written agreement, the EPP and ALDE Groups have committed themselves to collaborate closely on EU policy initiatives for the remainder of the Parliament’s term. This has the potential to shift the centre of gravity in the EP decisively to the right across a range of policy areas.

The first immediate effect of this new centre-right agreement is that Antonio Tajani is now increasingly likely to be elected President of the European Parliament, possibly even on the first round today.