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Newly elected assembly to meet in plenary session


Latest update : 2009-07-13

736 freshly elected members of the European Parliament will hold their first plenary session on Tuesday in Strasbourg. The assembly is expected to test its new political muscles by postponing the endorsement of the EU commission head.

AFP - The freshly-elected European parliament meets Tuesday for its first plenary session, keen to test the new political muscle it will develop once the EU's new reform package enters force.

In a short session, starting in earnest in Strasbourg, the 736-member assembly will elect its president, but not the head of the EU's executive arm, the European Commission.

Despite pressure to vote this week on the return of Jose Manuel Barroso for a second five-year term as president of the commission, the lawmakers have taken a stand and postponed any endorsement until the autumn.

"We can see even more that the parliament has decided to make its voice heard," said Julia de Clerck-Sachsse, an analyst at the Centre for European Policy Studies think-tank in Brussels.

The parliament is the European Union's only elected body and some deputies, notably the Greens bloc which won extra seats in the June 4-7 polls, believe the return of Barroso would weaken a key EU institution.

Known as the "lowest common denominator" when he was appointed in 2004 as a compromise candidate, the former Portuguese premier has been criticised for failing to react quickly to the financial and economic crisis.

But Barroso was officially anointed by EU nations Thursday after a 48-hour "silence procedure" during which none of the 27 member countries objected to his candidacy.

In the parliament, which sits in Brussels as well as Strasbourg, he has the backing of his own centre-right bloc, but doubts remain as to who exactly will endorse him, and he is reluctant to rely on fringe parties for backing.

The Greens in particular see Barroso as a lackey of the member nations, and have expressed bewilderment that no one else can be found.

"We do not trust him to wholeheartedly implement the policies that Europe urgently needs," Greens leaders said in a statement.

The commission is responsible for drawing up legislation that impacts daily on the lives of almost half a billion Europeans, as well as enforcing the rules already in place.

It will have a budget of 138 billion euros in 2010.

Its president -- who like the commissioners is appointed, not elected and whose term ends at the end of October -- has significant leverage to influence legislative priorities.

The question is: how much will the deputies be emboldened by their impending new powers under the Lisbon Treaty, which is likely to enter force next year if Irish voters back it in a second referendum on October 2?

They rejected the treaty -- meant to facilitate decision-making and create new posts including a longer-term president and a sort of foreign minister -- a year ago but opinion polls suggest the Irish will say 'yes' this time.

The assembly's liberal democrats group staked out clear ground ahead of the session.

"The newly elected European parliament's credibility and standing should be upheld and strengthened by the process" of nominating the next commission president, the group said.

"The stronger the European parliament, the more democratic and transparent the whole of the European Union.

Socialist leader Martin Schulz said EU nations had made a mistake by trying to force an early vote on Barroso.

"They wanted to rush this through, and we have prevented that. We will see and hear in September what Mr Barroso has to say and discuss with him. What I have seen over the past weeks does not make me hopeful," he said.

The assembly's agenda is slim ahead of the summer break.

Poland's Jerzy Buzek is to be the parliament's first president from the former communist east after an agreement was reached between the conservatives and the socialists to share the post over the next five years.

The heads of influential parliamentary commissions will also be named, while the Swedish presidency, which took over from the Czech Republic on July 1, will lay out its priorities for the next six months.

Date created : 2009-07-13