What happens now?

With the European Parliament's new legislature set to officially start on Tuesday 16th July, The Journal takes a look at the process that began following last month's European elections.

It’s already been one month since we European citizens exercised our democratic right by voting in the European Parliament elections. Our chosen representatives, the MEPs, now have the important tasks of adopting EU legislation, deciding on the EU budget, and holding other EU institutions to account.

Political groups in the European Parliament have been busy preparing for the constitutive session of Parliament’s tenth legislative term, which will take place from the 16th to 19th July in Strasbourg. Outgoing MEPs will bid farewell to what has been their place of work for the past five years or more, while the re-elected and newly-elected European legislators take their seats in the hemicycle.

The July plenary session will start with the election of the President of the European Parliament – the incumbent, Roberta Metsola, is expected to be confirmed in her post. MEPs will then elect their Bureau (14 Vice-Presidents and five Quaestors) and decide on the number of MEPs and composition of each parliamentary committee and delegation.

On Wednesday 17th July, Parliament is set to assess the outcome of the 27th June European Council summit in a debate with European Council President Charles Michel. On Thursday, then, they are expected to hold a debate with Ursula von der Leyen, the candidate for the Commission Presidency, followed by a vote on her election. The full, final draft agenda for the plenary session will be decided by Parliament’s Conference of Presidents (consisting of The President and the political group chairs) on Thursday 11 July.

The European Parliament hemicycle in Strasbourg awaits the constitutive plenary. Photo: Pascal Bastien/Libération

What exactly has been happening, and will take place from now on, following last month’s European elections? Here’s an overview of the process.

1: Verification of MEP credentials

The credentials of newly-elected MEPs are verified to establish that they do not hold another office that is incompatible with membership of the European Parliament. Incompatible offices include being a member of government or parliament of an EU member state, of the European Commission, the European Court of Justice, the European Central Bank Board of Directors, the Court of Auditors, or the European Investment Bank. Active officials working for the EU institutions or bodies set up under the EU treaties to manage EU funding are also barred from being MEPs.

Once the election results are official, member states communicate the names of those who have won a seat to the EP and ask them to take the necessary measures to avoid any incompatibility of offices. Before taking their seats, new MEPs whose election has been notified to Parliament must declare in writing that they do not hold any office incompatible with that of an MEP. This declaration needs to be made no later than six days before Parliament’s constitutive sitting.

The six MEPs elected from Malta: Roberta Metsola (PN/EPP), Alex Agius Saliba (PL/S&D), Daniel Attard (PL/S&D), Peter Agius (PN/EPP), Thomas Bajada (PL/S&D), and David Casa (PN/EPP).

These credentials are checked ex post by Parliament’s Legal Affairs Committee, which draws up a decision based on the information provided by member states. This decision is then passed to the President who informs the plenary during the next sitting. Other than checking credentials, Parliament also rules on any disputes around the incompatibility of different offices, except those based on national electoral laws.

Where it is established that an MEP holds an incompatible office, Parliament “shall establish that there is a vacancy”.

2: Constitution of the political groups

Negotiations for the constitution of the political groups started after the elections and may go on until the first plenary session. A political group must consist of at least 23 MEPs with shared political beliefs elected in at least one-quarter of the member states (i.e. at least seven). To be officially recognised as of 16th July, the date of Parliament’s constitutive plenary session, political groups have to notify the President of their names, political declaration and composition by 15th July 2024.

The latest, provisional overview of the composition of the new European Parliament.

3: Constituent plenary sitting

The new legislature will officially start on Tuesday 16th July 2024. On that day, newly elected MEPs will meet in Parliament’s seat in Strasbourg until Friday 19th July to elect their President, 14 Vice-Presidents and five Quaestors.
The European Parliament elects its President from among its members, for a renewable term of two and a half years.

Until a President has been elected, the outgoing President shall take the chair or, in their absence, one of the outgoing Vice-Presidents as determined in accordance with their order of precedence, or in the absence of any of those, the MEP that has held office for the longest period.

Candidates for the presidency may be proposed either by a political group or by 1/20th of MEPs, i.e. 36. The election is held by secret ballot.

MEPs will also vote on the numerical composition of Parliament’s standing committees and subcommittees, based on a proposal from the Conference of Presidents. The decision on which MEPs go to each committee is taken by the political groups and the non-attached members. This is expected to be announced to plenary during the July session.

Speaking on One Radio on Sunday morning, the Head of the Maltese delegation in the Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D), Alex Agius Saliba, voiced his optimism that the three MEPs elected on the Maltese Labour Party’s ticket (himself, Daniel Attard, and Thomas Bajada) will secure positions on those standing committees aligning with the Maltese people’s top concerns: the Committee on the Internal Market and Consumer Protection (IMCO), the Committee on Employment and Social Affairs (EMPL), the Committee on Transport and Tourism (TRAN), the Committee on Industry, Research and Energy (ITRE), the Committee on Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI), and the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE).

4: Constitutive Committee meetings

After the constitutive plenary, the committees will then hold their first meetings to elect their respective Chairs and Vice-Chairs (Bureau) on Tuesday 23rd July in Brussels.

5: Election of the President of the European Commission

The election of the European Commission President will take place after Parliament has constituted itself.

Article 14 of the Treaty of the European Union provides that the Euopean Parliament “shall elect the President of the Commission”. In practice, based on the rule 128 of the Rules of Procedure, the candidate proposed by the European Council – in this case the incumbent, Ursula von der Leyen – will present their political guidelines to Parliament, followed by a debate. Parliament will elect the President of the Commission by a majority of its component MEPs (361, in a Parliament of 720 Members). The vote is by secret ballot.

If the candidate does not obtain the required majority, the President of the European Parliament shall invite the European Council to propose a new candidate within one month for election in accordance with the same procedure.

6: Hearings with the Commissioners-designate

Under current procedures, together with the (newly) elected European Commission President, the Council appoints the Commissioners-designate. Each Commissioner-designate is assigned responsibility for a specific policy area by the Commission President. The relevant European Parliament committees assess each of the Commissioners-designate, before a plenary vote on the appointment of the College as a whole.

Examination by the Committee on Legal Affairs of the declaration of interests

The Committee on Legal Affairs carries out a full examination of the declaration on financial interests of the Commissioners-designate – ahead of their committee hearings – in order to assess accurate and complete content as well as possible conflicts of interest.

Should the Legal Affairs Committee have any doubts, it can ask for supplementary information or invite the Commissioner-designate for a discussion. It can also issue recommendations for resolving a conflict of interest.

Before the hearings with the relevant committees can take place, the Legal Affairs Committee must confirm in writing the absence of any conflict of interest. If no solution is found for a given conflict of interest, the Legal Affairs Committee will conclude that the Commissioner-designate is unable to exercise their function.

Written procedure: questions from MEPs

The Commissioner-designate has to provide written replies to several questions, including some from MEPs in the committees responsible for the portfolio to which they have been assigned. A first block of questions revolves around their general competence, European commitment, and personal independence, the management of the portfolio and planned cooperation with Parliament. The specialist committees prepare a series of specific questions on the portfolio.

The CVs of all Commissioners-designate and their reply to the written questions will be published on the EP website ahead of the hearings.

Hearing in the relevant committee or committees

The Commissioner-designate is invited to a three-hour hearing, streamed live, in front of the European Parliament committees responsible for their portfolio. The candidate makes an opening speech of maximum 15 minutes and will then reply to MEP questions.

Evaluation after the committee hearing

The responsible committee or committees must finalise their evaluation of a Commissioner-designate within 24 hours following the hearing and should meet in camera “as soon as possible” for that purpose. The committee(s) in charge of the hearing can also ask the Commissioner-designate for more information in writing, or organise a shorter additional hearing. An evaluation letter for each candidate is prepared by the political group coordinators, stating whether a candidate is qualified both:

  • to be a “Member of the College” (the European Commission) and
  • to carry out their assigned duties.

This letter is then transmitted for examination to the Conference of Committee Chairs within 24 hours after the completion of the evaluation. If the Committee approves the letter, it is sent confidentially to the Conference of Presidents. A separate evaluation report on each Commissioner-designate is sent to the Conference of Committee Chairs and to the Conference of Presidents of the European Parliament, which will draw up a draft resolution to be voted on in plenary.

Conclusion of the hearing process

The Conference of Presidents declares the hearings closed after having analysed the evaluation letters from the Committees in charge and the recommendation of the Conference of Committee Chairs. Only at this point can the evaluation letters be published and comments on the evaluation be made.

Plenary vote of investiture

The European Commission President takes the results of the hearings, as well as consultations with Parliament’s political groups, into account. He/she then presents their team and political priorities during a plenary session. After a debate, MEPs will decide, by a majority of votes cast, whether to invest the new College of Commissioners for a mandate of five years.

7: Pending legislative proposals

Not all negotiations between EU co-legislators (the European Parliament and Council) on proposals tabled by the European Commission were concluded by the end of the ninth legislative term. This can happen for several reasons, for example when no agreement could be reached in interinstitutional negotiations, or when national governments are unable to agree on a common position.

In concrete terms, legislative files

  • that were adopted by Parliament in plenary before the elections, whether at first reading or second reading, or under the consultation procedure, will remain legally valid for the next Parliament. Examples include combatting late payments, the revision of payment services, food and textile waste, water pollutants, new genomic techniques, safety of toys, driving licenses, Single European Sky, pharmaceuticals, and the revamp of the EU Customs code.

  • that did not reach the plenary before the elections, saw the work done on them (in committee, trilogue if there was not a deal) end. However, the new Parliament could decide to continue this work. Examples include combatting corruption, retail investor protection, Digital Euro, AI liability, combatting sexual abuse of children, long-term residents, the anti-smuggling package, animal transport, and welfare of cats and dogs. At the beginning of the new parliamentary term, Parliament’s Conference of Presidents (EP President and political group leaders) will decide on the basis of input from parliamentary committees, whether to continue working on “unfinished business”. Once they take this decision (possibly in October 2024), it will subsequently be announced in plenary (possibly also in October 2024). If the Conference of Presidents and plenary decide to take forward this work, the newly elected Parliament will continue with the next stage of the relevant decision-making procedure. If needed, a new rapporteur will be appointed. Traditionally, the Conference of Presidents decides to resume all unfinished legislative work. Exceptions can be made, for instance for files that have become obsolete and on which a new proposal by the Commission or renewed consultation by the Council is expected.

The information in this article has been sourced from the official website of the European Parliament.


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