by Neil Madden
STRASBOURG, July 6 (Xinhua) -- Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) will vote on Monday to decide who chairs the various parliamentary committees in Brussels. But after a tense plenary session last week in Strasbourg a further row is set to erupt over the chairmanship of the 20 specialized standing committees that help shape EU legislation.
The composition of the committees, including each chairmanship, is carved up according to the D'Hondt system, a calculus designed to award posts in proportion to the number of MEPs in each political grouping that make up the EP.
Following last week's elections in Strasbourg to decide who sits on the each committee it was thought that the eurosceptic Europe of Freedom & Direct Democracy (EFDD) group would chair the petitions committee, with the job going to Italian MEP Eleonora Evi, from Beppe Grillo's Five Star Movement.
This committee scrutinizes petitions from individual EU citizens but is more important in guarding against lobbying by special interest groups.
However, rumors were circulating over the weekend that the EFDD might not get the committee chairmanship because the three largest groups in the parliament - the European People's Party (EPP), the Socialists & Democrats (S&D) and the Liberal ALDE - have cut a deal among themselves to block the eurosceptic party which is led by UK MEP Nigel Farage. Each chairman's post is voted on by the committee members in a secret ballot.
In fact the EFDD has drawn support from an unlikely source, the Greens/European Free Alliance (EFA) which sits at the opposite end of the EP spectrum. An official statement from the Greens said it had "concerns that an agreement allegedly concluded between some of the political groups would mean the EFDD would lose the post of chair of the EP's petitions committee, to which it is entitled under the D'Hondt system".
Danish MEP Margrete Auken, the Greens spokesperson on the committee, said: "Excluding any political group from a committee chairmanship to which it is due under the established system for fairly distributing these posts would be a blow to the democratic process in the EU Parliament. This goes beyond petty politicking to the heart of European democracy."
Auken added that it was all the more important for the petitions committee, given its role in defending rules and rights and "standing up to interference by special interests".
"The candidate nominated by the EFDD group appears to have all the qualifications and the right approach to adequately exercise this duty," the Danish MEP continued. "Against this background we strongly urge the other political groups not to go ahead with a coup against the D'Hondt system, which would jeopardize the necessary minimal co-operation that is needed to make this parliament work."
EFDD spokesman Hermann Kelly said the alleged move to deny his party the committee chair was "a behind closed-door coup" by the three main pro-EU parties.
Elsewhere in the make-up of the committees, the UK Conservative-led European Conservatives and Reformists Group (ECR), has grabbed a number of significant jobs. Following May's EP election the ECR replaced ALDE as the third largest group in Parliament (with 70 MEPs).
UK MEP Vicky Ford is set to chair the internal market and consumer protection committee, while her Polish colleague Anna Fotyga is expected to head the subcommittee on security and defence.
The head of ECR, UK MEP Sajjad Karim, stood for president of the parliament and impressed enough MEPs to win 101 votes, some 30 more than the group's total head count in the parliament. This put him in second place behind Martin Schulz, who was re-elected for a second term thanks to a coalition between his own S&D group, the EPP and ALDE.
Conversely, France will see significantly lower representation in the committees, a by-product of the strong showing in the elections by the right-wing Front National (FN).
Despite winning more seats (24) than the other French parties the FN did not take part in the committee bargaining because it failed to form a parliamentary group. This means that while individual FN MEPs have been elected to different committees, none will be voted as chair. Of the remaining 50 French MEPs - one fewer than the Polish representation - the poor showing is compounded by the huge drop in the number of French Socialists who were previously influential within the S&D.
The result is that French MEPs will probably chair just two of the 20 committees, compared with a possible six posts for German MEPs and three for UK members.