Meloni, Macron camps tussle over EU parliament ranking

Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni insists the election success of her European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) camp should be reflected in the carve-up of top EU positions (Nick Gammon)
Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni insists the election success of her European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) camp should be reflected in the carve-up of top EU positions (Nick Gammon)

A far-right camp led by Italian premier Giorgia Meloni's party and a centrist rival linked to France's Emmanuel Macron are tussling over which emerges larger in the EU parliament once the dust settles from elections this month.

It comes ahead of an EU leaders' summit next week to allocate the bloc's top institutional jobs -- largely based on the weight of the legislature's political groups.

Meloni insists the relative success of her European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) should translate to a key spot in the carve-up of positions.

It was "surreal" that leaders had floated an initial lineup without involving her camp, she told Il Giornale newspaper on Wednesday.

Yet parliamentary insiders say the balance of power in the legislature remains essentially unchanged.

It lies with a centrist tie-up made up of the conservative European People's Party (EPP), the leftist Socialists & Democrats (S&D) and the liberal Renew Europe group that includes the French president's party.

Although the far right did relatively well in the elections, its gains were not uniform across the 27-nation European Union, and it remains splintered into various factions in the parliament, with the ECR the biggest.

- ECR third, for now -

The EPP emerged from the June 6-9 elections stronger, with 189 of the parliament's 720 seats, and the S&D came in second, with 136 seats.

The race for third place has not yet been decided.

As of Thursday, under an updated provisional count provided by the parliament, the ECR had edged ahead with 83 seats, versus Renew's 81.

But both groups are still wooing new lawmakers and the numbers are subject to change.

By next Wednesday their final counts will be in, just ahead of an EU summit on Thursday and Friday meant to settle nominations for the European Commission, the European Council, and the bloc's top foreign policy official.

The new legislature will then have to endorse the choices with a simple majority. It also decides its next speaker.

A second term for Ursula von der Leyen as commission chief seems likely, though not certain.

Leaders were already broadly in agreement on her at an informal Brussels dinner on Monday.

The names put forward for the other jobs are: former Portuguese prime minister Antonio Costa, of the S&D, for European Council president; and Kaja Kallas, current Estonian premier and part of the Renew group, as the EU's foreign policy "high representative".

Current European Parliament speaker Roberta Metsola is seen staying on in her chair.

- Meloni unrelenting -

But attempts by the EPP to muscle in on the positions up for grabs and Meloni's indignation at not having the ECR considered in the nominations have cast a cloud over the process.

Even if the ECR does end up as the third-biggest group, an EPP parliamentary source insisted it would not fundamentally change the balance in the legislature -- where the centrist alliance still commands more than 400 seats.

Sandro Gozi, an Italian member of the Renew group, echoed that: "We are convinced that we will remain at the core and an inseparable part of the majority."

Meloni, however, is showing no sign of relenting.

"The elections have clearly shifted Europe's centre of gravity to the right," she told Il Giornale.

"In the current parliament, on various dossiers, we will see that there can be a change in the subjects, in the priorities, in the way of reading some policies," she said.

In the lead-up to the EU elections, von der Leyen courted Meloni as a way of covering her bases.

But the S&D have made clear that any EPP-ECR alliance would cost her its support.