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Brussels Update: New Commission President Elected - New ECON Committee Confirmed

18 July 2019

New European Commission President Elected – Ursula von der Leyen

Ursula von der Leyen was elected as the first female European Commission President by the European Parliament on Tuesday evening by a margin of just nine votes. The closeness of the vote may be indicative of the challenges that the European Parliament will face when it comes to building majorities and passing legislation over the next five years. 

Von der Leyen is set to take office on November 1st for a five-year term. She will now send official letters to the Member States' heads of state or government inviting them to propose their candidates for members of the Commission. Hearings of the nominees in the European Parliament’s committees are scheduled to take place from September 30th to October 8th. The full college of Commissioners then needs to be elected by Parliament as a whole, most likely in its October 21st-24th session. 

The Irish Government has nominated Phil Hogan for a second term as its EU Commissioner. Hogan, who has been the Agriculture Commissioner for the last five years, is reportedly interested in the Trade portfolio.

New ECON Committee Membership Confirmed

The cast of politicians in the European Parliament that will seek to guide financial services legislation over the next five years is now established following the new Economic and Monetary Affairs (ECON) committee’s constitutive meeting on July 10th. 

It is interesting to note that, unlike in 2009 and 2014, the ECON committee struggled to attract members. Most MEPs were seemingly more interested in environmental and international trade issues as the ENVI and INTA committees were oversubscribed – evidence that as we move further from the 2008 crisis that financial services is no longer the hot topic it once was. 

While there is some continuity with the previous parliamentary term following the re-election of Roberto Gualtieri (S&D, Italy) as ECON Chair, nearly two-thirds of members are new to the committee. Given the highly technical subject matter dealt with in ECON, there will be important groundwork to do with the MEPs to explain complex financial sector issues and to explain how the investment funds industry operates. 

A significant number of long-serving leading MEPs on ECON either did not stand for re-election in May or were not returned to parliament. However, several influential members have returned including Markus Ferber (EPP, Germany – he will continue to lead the EPP ECON delegation), Othmar Karas (EPP, Austria), Paul Tang (S&D, Netherlands), Sven Giegold (Greens, Germany), Philippe Lamberts (Greens, Belgium) and Caroline Nagtegaal (RE, Netherlands). The biggest change is in the French ECON delegation with all their members except Pascal Canfin new to the European Parliament. For the first time since May 2009 there are two members of the ECON committee from Ireland: Frances Fitzgerald (EPP) and Billy Kelleher (RE). Sinn Fein’s Matt Carthy, who is a member of the far-left GUE political group, is a substitute member. 

The results from the May elections have left the European Parliament more fragmented than at any time since 1979. The ECON committee has experienced a substantial shift in the balance of power as a result of reduced seat totals for the two largest political groups – centre-right EPP and centre-left S&D – which leaves them without a majority. Meanwhile the Greens and centrist Renew Europe (formerly ALDE) gained seats and will wield considerable influence over the next five years – importantly, like the EPP and S&D, both Greens and Renew Europe are also pro-EU. However, no agreement for a stable coalition among the four pro-EU groups has so far emerged and passing legislation this term could prove challenging. 

Despite the lower level of interest in ECON by MEPs the committee will remain one of the European Parliament’s most important. While the early focus in ECON is expected to be on sustainable finance, taxation and transparency, there are big reviews of existing financial services legislation to come over the next five years and working with the committee will be key.

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