Dr Charles Tannock

Member of the European Parliament for London

New EU parliament to be more pro-Israel ?

European Jewish Press - 14 July 2009

The freshly-elected European parliament meets Tuesday for its first plenary session in Strasbourg, France, with as priority task the election of a new president to succeed German Hans-Gert Poettering. Around 50 percent of the 736 MEPs will be new elected members from the 27 EU countries.

The European parliament, which has been directly elected by universdal suffrage since 1979, is the EU’s legislative engine.

For the first time, an MEP from an eastern European country, Polish Christian-Democrat Jerzy Buzek, is expected to be chosen by a large majority of the EU assembly after an agreement was reached between the conservatives and the socialists to share the post over the next five years.

But the MEPs will not vote for a second term for Jose Manuel Barroso as head of the European Commission, the EU's executive arm.

Despite pressure to vote this week on the return of Barroso – whose choice by EU heads of state and government is opposed by four political groups-, the EU parliament postponed any endorsement until the autumn.

In the EU elections hold in June, the center-right European People’s Party (EPP), a grouping of christian-democrats and conservatives, emerged victorious while the European socialists – now renamed the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (PASD) lost ground.

But the Greens, the Eurosceptics and the extreme-right parties made also important gains in several countries.

In the new parliament, the EPP, chaired by French Joseph Daul, remains the strongest bloc with 264 seats. One of their MEP’s, Italian Mario Mauro, is likely to head the important foreign affairs parliamentary committee. The centre-left PASDE, chaired by German Martin Schultz, is the second largest bloc with 183 MEPs, followed by the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) with 84.

According to observers, the new EU parliament is likely to be "more pro-Israel" than the previous although voting on Israeli-related issues tends to be more "individual" than a discipline within political groups.

"Rifts are more complicated and one has to look at the 736 MEPs on an individual basis", says Frédérique Ries, a Belgian Liberal MEP, who is vice-president European Friends of Israel, a pro-Israel lobbying group whithin the European parliament.

She considers the fact that the EPP has reinforced its already strong position in the EP as rather "good news" for Israel. "If we look back at the last 5 or 10 years, the EPP has been more 'balanced' or 'less unbalanced' on the Mideast issues, she told EJP.

Five years ago, the Liberal group, to which she belongs, was rather close to Israel but since then it has largely evolved 'not in the good direction', Ries, a former TV anchorwoman, admits.

"For me it became more difficult within the group each time the Mideast question was put on the table". "The EPP is probably the more balanced group on the issue," she adds.

But Ries points out to the election in several EU countries of extreme-right MEPs such as UK's British National Party, Hungary's Jobbik, France's National Front, Belgium's Vlaams Belang, Bulgaria's Ataka, the Danish People's Party and the Dutch Freedom Party.

"This is rather bad news in terms of discrimination, anti-Semitism and Israel," Ries says, mentioning in particular the re-election of Jean-Marie Le Pen, head of the French National Front, who last April in Strasbourg renewed earlier comments that "gas chambers were a detail of second world war history".

"Moreover Le Pen is also fiercely anti-Israel," she adds.

"One must see the MEPs individually and I am sure that the Mideast question will quickly be debated in the parliament, not necessarily this opening session but surely in September or October."

The group of the Greens, led by Daniel Cohn-Bendit, which increased its number of MEPs to 52, has been very critical of Israel’s government policies.

"Cohn-Bendit is critical but also clear-headed while within the group, new French MEP José Bové, considers himlself as openly anti-Zionist."

But Luisa Morgantini, an active pro-Palestinian MEP from the European United Left group, was not re-elected.

Besides Ries, among the "traditional pro-Israel" MEPs, British Charles Tannock, Finnish Hannu Takkula, Swedish Gunnar Hokmark, French Patrick Gaubert and Polish Marek Siwiec were re-elected for a five-year term.