Political groups of the European Parliament

Political groups of the European Parliament

The European Parliament is unique among supranational assemblies because it organizes itself around ideological, rather than national, groups. These political groups of the European Parliament are groups of MEPs. In some cases a Group is the formal representation of a European political party in the Parliament, in others it is a political coalition of a number of European parties, national parties and independent politicians.

Groups are not parties, but looser coalitions. But each Group is assumed to have a set of core principles, and Groups that cannot demonstrate this may be disbanded (see below). These core principles fall into distinct categories, and those categories encompass the whole range of political thought.

Requirements and privileges

Working together in Groups benefits European political parties: for example, the European Free Alliance (5 MEPs) and the European Greens (37 MEPs) have more power by working together in the European Greens–European Free Alliance Group (42 MEPs) than they would have as stand-alone parties, bringing their causes much-needed additional support. Further incentives for co-operating in Groups include financial subsidies from the Parliament and guaranteed seats on committees which are not afforded to Independent MEPs.

For a Group to be formally recognised in the Parliament, it must fulfil the conditions laid down in Rule 29 of the European Parliament's Rules of Procedure. That Rule states that a Group must have MEPs elected in at least one-fifth of the Member States, must have at least twenty MEPs, must contain no MEP that is a member of another Group, and its MEPs must have a common political affinity. Provided these conditions are met, MEPs can theoretically create any Group they like. This was put to the test when MEPs attempted to create a far-right Group called "Identity, Tradition, Sovereignty" (ITS). This generated controversy and there were concerns about public funds going towards a far-right Group.cite web|last=Brunwasser|first=Matthew|title=Bulgaria and Romania bolster far right profile in EU Parliament|url=http://www.iht.com/articles/2007/01/14/news/right.php|date=2007-01-14|publisher=International Herald Tribune|accessdate=2007-07-07] Attempts to block the formation of ITS were unsuccessful, but they were blocked from gaining leading positions on committees, a right meant to be afforded to all Groups. [cite web|title = Far-Right Wing Group Sidelined in European Parliament|url=http://www.dw-world.de/dw/article/0,2144,2335201,00.html|publisher=Deutsche Welle|date=2007-02-02|accessdate=2007-07-07]

These events spurred MEPs, mainly from the largest two groups, to approve a rise in the threshold for groups. Following the next election, the minimum number of MEPs to form a group will be 25, and they will have to be drawn from seven rather than six states. This was opposed by many MEPs, including the Liberal group, for being detrimental to democracy, while supporters argued that 2.5% of MEPs could still form a group while making it harder fro the far right to claim EU funds (however, the new rules would also close the two other smallest groups in Parliament).cite web|last=Mahony|first=Honor|title=New rules to make it harder for MEPs to form political groups|url=http://euobserver.com/9/26468|date=2008-07-09|publisher=International Herald Tribune|accessdate=2008-07-10]


Groups may be based around a single European political party (e.g. the Socialist Group) or they can include more than one European party as well as national parties and independents [cite web|title = Party Politics in the EU|publisher = civitas.org.uk|url=http://www.civitas.org.uk/eufacts/download/CIT.3.EU%20Political%20Parties.pdf|format=PDF|accessdate = 2007-06-12 ] (e.g. the Liberal Group).

Each Group appoints a leader, referred to as a "president", "co-ordinator" or "chair", who decides which way the Group should vote in Parliament. The chairs of each Group meet in the Conference of Presidents to decide what issues will be dealt with at the plenary session of the European Parliament. Groups can table motions for resolutions and table amendments to reports.


Party relations

The Parliament does not form a government in the traditional sense and its politics have developed over consensual rather than adversarial lines. No single group has ever held a majority in Parliament.cite web|last = Kreppel|first=Amie|title = The European Parliament and Supranational Party System|publisher =Cambridge University Press|year=2002|url=http://assets.cambridge.org/97805218/06251/sample/9780521806251ws.pdf|format=PDF|accessdate = 2007-06-12 ] The two largest Groups are the Conservative and Christian Democrat Group (EPP-ED) and the Socialist Group (PES), which are based around the European political parties called the European People's Party (EPP) and the Party of European Socialists (also called PES). These two Groups have dominated the Parliament for much of its life, continuously holding between 50 and 70 percent of the seats together. The Socialists were the largest single party up to 1999, when they were overtaken by the People's Party.cite web|last=|first=|title=History|publisher=Socialist Group website|date=|url=http://www.socialistgroup.eu/gpes/history.do?lg=en|format=|accessdate = 2007-11-11] cite web|title=EPP-ED Chronology – 1991-2000|publisher=EPP-ED Group website|url=http://www.epp-ed.eu/group/en/chronology06.asp|accessdate = 2007-11-07]

In 1987 the Single European Act came into force and, under the new cooperation procedure, the Parliament needed to obtain large majorities to make the most impact. So the People's Party and the Socialists came to an agreement to cooperate in the Parliament.cite web|title=EPP-ED Chronology – 1981-1990|publisher=EPP-ED Group website|url=http://www.epp-ed.eu/group/en/chronology05.asp|accessdate = 2007-11-07] This agreement became known as the "grand coalition" and, aside from a break in the fifth Parliament, it has dominated the Parliament for much of its life, regardless of necessity. The grand coalition is visible in the agreement between the two Groups to divide the five-year term of the President of the European Parliament equally between them, with a Socialist President for half the term and a People's President for the other half, regardless of the actual election result.cite web|last=Settembri|first=Pierpaolo|title = Is the European Parliament competitive or consensual ... "and why bother"?|url=http://www.fedtrust.co.uk/admin/uploads/FedT_workshop_Settembri.pdf|format=PDF|publisher=Federal Trust|date=2007-02-02|accessdate=2007-10-07]

Position of the liberals

Liberal Group leader Graham Watson MEP has denounced the grand coalition and has described the aim for the liberals in the following terms: "the challenge for us is not only to break the inherent conservatism of the grand coalition, where a failing EPP Europe is propped up by a Socialist poodle pinching the crumbs from the table" also expressing a desire to ensure that the posts of Commission President, Council President, Parliament President and High Representative are not carved up in an agreement between a the two groups to the exclusion of third parties.cite web|title=Speech by G. Watson to the ELDR Congress in Berlin|date=2007-10-26|publisher=ELDR website|url=http://www.eldr.org/modules.php?name=News&file=print&sid=1167|accessdate=2007-12-01]

During the fifth term it was the liberals who were involved in a break in the grand coalition when they entered into an alliance with the People's Party, to the exclusion of the Socialists.cite web|title = Interview: Graham Watson, leader of group of Liberal Democrat MEPs |url=http://www.euractiv.com/en/elections/interview-graham-watson-leader-group-liberal-democrat-meps/article-128543|publisher=Euractiv|date=2004-06-15|accessdate=2007-11-01] This was reflected in the Presidency of the Parliament with the terms being shared between the EPP and the ELDR, rather than the EPP and PES [cite web|title = European Parliament elects new president |url=http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/398892.stm|publisher=BBC News|date=1999-07-20|accessdate=2007-11-01] as before. In the following term the liberals grew to 88 seats becoming the "Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe". This was the largest number of seats held by any third party in Parliament.cite web|title=The Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe is born|date=2004-07-14|publisher=Graham Watson MEP website|url=http://www.grahamwatsonmep.org/news/000017/the_alliance_of_liberals_and_democrats_for_europe_is_born.html|accessdate=2007-10-07]

Break in the coalition

However liberal intervention has not been the only cause for a break in the grand coalition. There have been specific occasions where real left-right party politics have emerged, notably the resignation of the Santer Commission. When the initial allegations against the Commission Budget emerged, they were directed primarily against the Socialists Édith Cresson and Manuel Marín. PES supported the Commission and saw the issue as an attempt by the EPP to discredit their party ahead of the 1999 elections. EPP disagreed. Whilst the Parliament was considering rejecting the Community budget, President Jacques Santer argued that a "No" vote would be tantamount to a vote of no confidence. PES leader Pauline Green MEP attempted a vote of confidence and the EPP put forward counter motions. During this period the two Groups adopted a government-opposition dynamic, with PES supporting the executive and EPP renouncing its previous coalition support and voting it down.cite web | last =Ringer | first =Nils F. | title =The Santer Commission Resignation Crisis | publisher =University of Pittsburgh | month =February | year =2003 | url =http://aei.pitt.edu/2919/01/156.pdf | format =PDF | accessdate = 2007-10-07 ]

In 2004 there was another notable break in the grand coalition. It occurred over the nomination of Rocco Buttiglione as European Commissioner for Justice, Freedom and Security. The People's Party supported the appointment of Buttiglione, while the Socialists, who were also critics of the President-designate Jose Manuel Barroso, led the parties seeking Buttiglione's removal following his rejection (the first in EU history) by a Parliamentary committee. Barroso initially stood by his team and offered only small concessions, which were rejected by the Socialists. The People's Party demanded that if Buttiglione were to go, then a Socialist commissioner must also be sacrificed for balance.cite web|last=Bowley|first=Graham|title=Socialists vow to oppose incoming team : Barroso optimistic on commission vote|publisher=International Herald Tribune|url=http://www.iht.com/articles/2004/10/26/union_ed3__11.php|date=2004-10-26|accessdate = 2007-11-23] In the end, Italy withdrew Buttiglione and put forward Franco Frattini instead. Frattini won the support of the Socialists and the Barroso Commission was finally approved, albeit behind schedule.cite web|last=Bowley|first=Graham|title=SEU Parliament likely to accept commission : Barroso set to win with new team|publisher=International Herald Tribune|url=http://www.iht.com/articles/2004/11/17/union_ed3__6.php|date=2004-11-17|accessdate = 2007-11-23] Politicisation such as the above has been increasing, with Simon Hix of the London School of Economics noting in 2007 thatcite web|title = Professor Farrell: "The EP is now one of the most powerful legislatures in the world"|publisher=European Parliament|url=http://www.europarl.europa.eu/news/expert/infopress_page/008-7838-162-06-24-901-20070615IPR07837-11-06-2007-2007-false/default_en.htm|date=2007-06-18|accessdate = 2007-07-05]



Conservatives/Christian Democrats

In European politics, the centre-right is usually occupied by Christian democrats or by conservatives. The two strands have had a tangled relationship in the Parliament. The first Christian Democrat Group was founded in 1953 and stayed with that name for a quarter of a century. Meanwhile outside the Parliament, local Christian-democratic parties were organising and eventually formed the pan-national political party called the "European People's Party" on April 29 1976. Since all the Christian-democratic MEPs were members of this pan-European party, the Group's name was changed to indicate this: first to the "Christian-Democratic Group (Group of the European People's Party)" on March 14 1978, then to "Group of the European People's Party (Christian Democrats)" on July 17 1979. Meanwhile, on January 16 1973, the "European Conservative Group" was formed by the British and Danish Conservative parties, which had recently joined the EEC. This group was renamed to the "European Democratic Group" on July 17 1979. The EPP Group grew during the '80s, with parties such as the Greek New Democracy and Spanish Partido Popular that were not explicitly Christian Democratic joining the Group. In contrast, the number of MEPs in the European Democratic Group fell over the same period and it eventually merged with the EPP Group on 1 May 1992. This consolidation of the centre-right continued during the '90s, with MEPs from the highly heterogeneous centre-right Italian Forza Italia eventually settling down into the EPP Group on 15 June 1998, after spending nearly a year (19 July 1994 to July 6 1995) in their own Group, self-referentially called "Forza Europa", and nearly three years (July 6 1995 to 15 June 1998) in the national-conservative Group called "Union for Europe". But the Conservatives were growing restless and on July 20 1999 the EPP Group was renamed to the "Group of the European People's Party (Christian Democrats) and European Democrats" in order to identify the Conservative parties within the Group. The Group remains under that name to this day. Although for the sake of brevity, it's usually called "People's" or "EPP-ED".


The first Communist Group in the European Parliament was the "Communist and Allies Group" founded on 16 October 1973. It stayed together until 25 July 1989 when it split into two groups, the "Left Unity" Group with 14 members and the "Group of the European United Left" (EUL) with 28 members. EUL collapsed in January 1993 after the Italian Communist Party changed its name to Democratic Party of the Left and its MEPs joined the Socialist Group, leaving Left Unity as the only leftist group before the 1994 elections. The name was resurrected immediately after the elections when the "Confederal Group of the European United Left" was formed on 19 July 1994. On 6 January 1995, when parties from Sweden and Finland joined, the Group was further renamed to the "Confederal Group of the European United Left–Nordic Green Left" and it has stayed that way to the present.


A Group is assumed to have a set of core principles ("affinities" or "complexion") to which the full members are expected to adhere. This throws up an anomaly: Groups get money and seats on Committees which Independent members do not get, but the total amount of Independent members may be greater than the members of the smaller Groups. In 1979 MEPs got round this by forming a Technical Group (formally called the "Group for the Technical Coordination and Defence of Independent Groups and Members", or "CDI" for short) as a coalition of parties ranging from centre-left to far left, which were not aligned with any of the major international organizations. [ On 17 July 1979, CDI consisted of 11 MEPs: specifically Maurits P.-A. Coppieters of the Flemish People's Union, Else Hammerich, Jens-Peter Bonde, Sven Skovmand, and Jørgen Bøgh of the Danish Eurosceptic list People's Movement against the EEC, the Irish independent MEP Neil Blaney, Luciana Castellina from the Italian Proletarian Unity Party, Mario Capanna fron the Italian Proletarian Democracy, and Marco Pannella, Emma Bonino and Leonardo Sciascia of the left-libertarian Radical Party] CDI lasted until 1984. On 20 July 1999, another Technical Group was formed, (formally called the "Technical Group of Independent Members – mixed group" or "TGI" for short). Since it contained far-right MEPs and centre-left MEPs, it could not possibly be depicted as having a common outlook. The Committee on Constitutional Affairs promptly ruled that TGI did not have a coherent political complexion, Parliament upheld (412 to 56 with 36 abstentions) the ruling, and TGI was promptly disbanded on 13 September 1999, the first Group to be forcibly dissolved. But it didn't end there: The ruling was appealed to the European Court of First Instance ("not" the French Court of First Instance, whose acronym is also, confusingly, "TGI") and the Group was temporarily resurrected on December 1 1999 until the Court came to a decision. On October 3 2001, President Fontaine announced that the Court of First Instance had declared against the appealand that the disbandment was back in effect from October 2 2001, the date of the declaration. TGI appeared on the list of Political Groups in the European Parliament for the last time on October 4 2001. Since then the requirement that Groups have a coherent political complexion has been enforced (as ITS later found out), and "mixed" Groups are not expected to appear again.


Independent MEPs that are not in a Group are categorised as "Non-Inscrits" (the French term is universally used, even in English translations). This null-Group has no Group privileges or funding, and is included here solely for completion.

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[http://www.europarl.europa.eu/press/sdp/backg/en/1996/b961115.htm Composition of the European Parliament 1996-11-11, 1996-01-01, 1995-12-31 and 1994-07-19 (first session of 1994 Parliament?)] ] [http://www.europe-politique.eu/union-pour-l-europe-des-nations.htm UEN on Europe Politique] ] [http://www.europe-politique.eu/groupe-socialiste-au-parlement-europeen.htm PES on Europe Politique] ] [http://www.iisg.nl/archives/en/files/c/10769716.php Confederation of the Socialist Parties of the European Community Collection] ] [http://www.pes.org/content/view/42/69/lang,en/ How does the PES work?] ] [http://www.laetusinpraesens.org/docs70s/typeap4.php Types of International Organization] ] cite book | last = Lane | first = Jan-Erik | coauthors = David McKay, Kenneth Newton | title = Political Data Handbook: OECD Countries | publisher = Oxford University Press | year = 1997 | pages = pp. 191 | isbn = 019828053X] [http://www.europarl.europa.eu/members/archive/term1/view.do?language=EN&id=974 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European Parliament profile of Jens-Peter Bonde] ] [http://aei.pitt.edu/6970/01/neunreither_karlheinz.pdf "The European Parliament And Enlargement: From 1973 To 2000" by Karlheinz Neunreither] ] [http://www.europarl.europa.eu/members/archive/term5/view.do?language=EN&id=997 European Parliament profile of Francesco Speroni] ] cite web|last = Hines|first=Eric|title = The European Parliament And The Europeanization Of Green Parties|publisher =University of Iowa|year=2003|url=http://myweb.uiowa.edu/ehhines/culturaldyamicshines.pdf|format=PDF|accessdate = 2008-03-01] [http://www.ena.lu?doc=4119&lang=2 Political groups in the European Parliament (1979)] ]


ee also

* Apportionment in the European Parliament

External links

* [http://www.europarl.europa.eu/groups/default_en.htm European Parliament political groups]
* [http://www.europarl.europa.eu/members/expert/politicalBodies.do?language=EN Lists of MEPs by political group]
* [http://www.europe-politique.eu/groupes-parlement-europeen.htm List of current groups (in French)] , [http://translate.google.com/translate?hl=en&u=http://www.europe-politique.eu/groupes-parlement-europeen.htm (automatically translated)]
* [http://elections.online.fr/groupes-parlementaires-parlement-europeen.htm List of historical groups (in French)] , [http://translate.google.com/translate?hl=en&u=http://elections.online.fr/groupes-parlementaires-parlement-europeen.htm (automatically translated)]
* [http://www.kas.de/wf/de/71.4504/ List of current and historical groups (with dates)]
* [http://www.europarl.europa.eu/groups/accounts_en.htm Political groups' annual accounts (2001-2006)]
* [http://www.kas.de/upload/dokumente/evp_bestand.pdf Archive material (includes groups)]
* [http://www.kas.de/wf/de/71.4508/ Glossary of abbreviations (includes groups)]
* [http://www.blackwell-synergy.com/doi/pdf/10.1111/1468-5965.00424 The Party System of the European Parliament: Collusive or Competitive? (includes groups and how they evolved since 1952/3)]
* [http://assets.cambridge.org/97805218/06251/sample/9780521806251ws.pdf The European Parliament and Supranational Party System] Cambridge University Press 2002
* [http://www.europarl.europa.eu/election/results/legende.htm Names of the groups in several languages immediately prior to the 1999 elections]
* [http://emlab.berkeley.edu/users/groland/pubs/HNR-Democracy_in_the_EP-11July05.pdf Democracy in the European Parliament (see table 1.2 for list of all groups from First Parliament to Sixth)]
* [http://www.ena.lu?doc=4327&lang=2 Development of Political Groups in the European Parliament] – full document
* [http://www.ena.lu/europe/european-union/development-political-groups-european-parliament.htm Development of Political Groups in the European Parliament] – summary document and associated links
* [http://www.ena.lu?doc=4119&lang=2 Political groups in the European Parliament (1979)]
* [http://www.ena.lu?doc=4120&lang=2 Political groups in the European Parliament (1984)]
* [http://www.ena.lu?doc=4121&lang=2 Political groups in the European Parliament (1989)]
* [http://www.ena.lu?doc=4122&lang=2 Political groups in the European Parliament (1994)]
* [http://www.ena.lu?doc=3855&lang=2 Political groups in the European Parliament (1999)]
* [http://www.ena.lu?doc=10282&lang=2 Political groups in the European Parliament (2004)]
* [http://www.ena.lu?doc=4149&lang=2 Political groups (2004)]
* [http://www.tcd.ie/iiis/documents/discussion/pdfs/iiisdp101.pdf Party Groups and Policy Positions in the European Parliament]
* [http://works.bepress.com/josep_colomer/12 Josep M. Colomer. "How Political Parties, Rather than Member-States, Are Building the European Union" (proof copy)] , [http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=dIzK9HyN6R0C (via Google Books)] in "Widening the European Union: The Politics of Institutional Change", ed. Bernard Steunenberg. London: Routledge, 2002, ISBN 0415268354.

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