A pair of British Euro MPs will today challenge the “stitch-up” between two large, political groups that has monopolised the presidency of the European Parliament for the last two decades.
The campaigns of Diana Wallis (Liberal Democrat) and Nirj Deva (Conservative) have ruffled feathers in Brussels but have attracted little attention back home. Neither of the Britons will win the three way race but Ms Wallis, running as an independent, could poll enough “renegade” votes to embarrass the big centre-right and centre-left groups which have played “pass the parcel” with the European Parliament presidency since the early 1990s.
Meanwhile, Mr Deva, 63, an “avowed Eurosceptic”, who has run a low profile campaign, will attract little support outside the Tories’ own group.
The overwhelming favourite is Martin Schulz, 56, a veteran German Euro MP and leader of the parliament’s Socialist group. He is the “unofficial-official” candidate of the two largest groups in the parliament, the Christian Democrats and the Socialists, who are supposedly sworn political rivals.
Mr Schulz was promised the job 30 months ago. In 2009, Socialist Euro MP’s voted en masse with the largest group, the Christian Democrats, or European People’s Party (EPP), to install Jerzy Buzek, a Polish EPP member, as President for the first half of the parliament’s five year term.
Since they hold 449 of the 736 seats, the two groups should, in theory, easily carry off the second half of their mutual back-scratching agreement today. But will they? And should anyone care?
Diana Wallis, 57, Liberal Democrat MEP for Yorkshire and Humber, and vice president of the parliament, thinks that there may be a surprise, although probably not a shock. She is running – without the blessing of her own Liberal group – to challenge what she calls the “undemocratic buggins’ turn principle” on which the presidency has been decided for most of the last two decades.
“This parliament has a wonderful record in campaigning for democracy and human rights all over the world,” she told The Independent. “It’s about time we applied the principles in our own house. A stitch-up between the biggest groups is not democratic and it does not further the interests and independence of individual members. There are many members in the Christian Democrat and Socialist groups who agree with me.”
Ms Wallis has also won the overwhelming support of online followers of the activities of the European Parliament (admittedly not an enormous constituency). In an internet opinion poll conducted by Debatingeurope.eu, Ms Wallis won 207 votes, Mr Schulz, 27 and Mr Deva 9.
Still: does the European Parliament, or its Presidency, matter? More than they used to, Ms Wallis points out. Under the Lisbon treaty, Euro MP’s have increased powers to shape EU legislation. The parliament is the only form of direct democracy in an EU constantly criticised as undemocratic.
One of Ms Wallis’s campaign promises is that, as President, she would seek new alliances between the European parliament and national parliaments to strengthen democratic oversight of EU affairs.
Sri Lanka-born Mr Deva, Conservative MEP for South East England, has put himself forward as the “inclusive, non-partisan, multicultural” candidate. Eye-brows were raised last month when it emerged that nomination papers had been signed on his behalf by far-right members of the parliament, including Nick Griffin of the British National Party. Mr Deva said that he had not sought their support.