New European Parliament: Labour reaps its European rewards

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STRASBOURG - It is not just in Britain that the Labour Party has had a good week, writes Andrew Marshall. They have taken more than their fair share of rewards in the European Parliament, though they return to their constituencies with regret that the effort to unseat Jacques Santer failed.

Because they are the largest single national political grouping, the 62 Labour members of the European Parliament have been able to get their hands on some of the real positions of influence. Pauline Green, the North London MEP, is leader of the 198-strong Socialist group, the largest in the Parliament. The British group is led by Wayne David, MEP for South Wales Central. Richard Balfe (London South Inner) also becomes a quaestor, charged with looking after MEPs' interests. And David Martin (Lothians) remained a vice-president. In the committee chairmanships reshuffle, veteran Ken Collins (Strathclyde East) kept Environment, Steven Hughes (Durham) gets Social Affairs and Peter Truscott (Hertfordshire, a new member) took on the Petitions committee.

The British Conservatives, a mere 18, have all but shrunk out of sight. They are not even full members of their parliamentary group and for the first time the section includes a solid Euro-sceptic wing.

Mr David says that the European Parliamentary Labour Party, by contrast, has now transcended the internecine warfare of the past. But inevitably, questions were being asked yesterday about the decision to challenge Mr Santer and its failure. 'The Labour MEPs have got off to a bad start in the new parliament,' said David Davis, the new Minister of State at the Foreign Office with responsibility for Europe. 'Their childish antics are a timely reminder that whatever new faces Labour puts at the top, it is still the same old party.'

Certainly the British Labour section was divided over challenging Mr Santer, with 12 voting against. It split the Socialist group but on balance the attempt was probably a good thing: it has raised the Parliament's profile, and sent a warning to the Council of Ministers and the Commission. It remains to be seen whether they can consistently translate their position into power and influence. If the Commission under Jacques Delors has always been a French preserve, the Parliament is very much a German institution.