EU reform: The Spinelli Group in the starting blocks

, by Hervé Moritz

All the versions of this article: [English] [français]

EU reform: The Spinelli Group in the starting blocks

During the previous European Parliament plenary session, the members of the Spinelli Group that brings together federalist MEPs organised their first meeting of the new term. It was an occasion to present the role of the group, its raison d’être and its objectives for the new mandate.

On Tuesday at lunchtime, around forty MEPs were present at the first meeting of the Spinelli Group at the European Parliament in Strasbourg. Comprising both old and new federalist MEPs, the informal group coordinates the work of the members on the future of Europe and on EU reform.

A brief history

The group is named after Altiero Spinelli to mark its connection to the heritage of this historic figure for federalist activists who initiated numerous projects for reforming European institutions.

In 1980, after the European Parliament’s defeat to the Council in the negotiations for the EU budget, Altiero Spinelli who had been elected as an MEP by universal suffrage the previous year solicited colleagues in order to create a group of MEPs determined to begin reforming the European institutions. The first meeting took place on 9 July 1980 at the Au Crocodile restaurant in Strasbourg. The restaurant gave its name to this group: “Le Club du Crocodile”.

The European Parliament committee on institutional affairs was created thanks to the influence of this group, and the group still exists today, now as the Committee on Constitutional Affairs (AFCO). Altiero Spinelli took the role of rapporteur in the committee. In 1984, the Spinelli report on the treaty establishing the European Union was approved by the European Parliament. This project, though dismissed by representatives of the member states, pushed the Commission and the Council to envisage a reform of the institutions, which led to the adoption of the Single European Act in 1986.

Later, after Altiero Spinelli’s death in 1986, the “Club du Crocodile” continued to exist as a federalist intergroup, an informal group of MEPs recognised by the European Parliament. In 2009, the federalist intergroup didn’t find enough support in the Parliament and went downhill. A number of MEPs, including Guy Verhofstadt, Daniel Cohn-Bendit, Sylvie Goulard and Isabelle Durand created the Spinelli Group to continue the work towards EU reform.

An unprecedented opportunity for reforming the EU

The Spinelli Group is back in action, as EU reform returns to the political agenda through debates on the democratic legitimacy of the EU and citizen participation. After the European elections, with focus on evolving the EU treaties and better citizen participation in the decision-making process, as well as the failure of the Spitzenkandidaten system to determine the next Commission President, federalists’ pet subjects are at the forefront of debate.

Priorities of the Spinelli Group presented in the first meeting included revising European electoral law to include transnational lists, redefining the rules of the Spitzenkandidaten system, and a citizen conference on Europe for treaty reform.

Sandro Gozi, President of the Union of European Federalist and an MEP who is to take his seat after Brexit, sees a historic opportunity springing up. “Never has there been such an opportune moment in the last thirty years to relaunch a certain vision of a sovereign and democratic Europe, to work for more democracy. This means carrying out federalist projects like putting in place transnational lists. If the Spitzenkandidaten principle has failed, it’s because we had heads of lists without the lists, and thereby without a real European democratic choice.”

Gozi also emphasised that “Ursula von der Leyen’s speech was a very European speech, with federalist tones that we haven’t heard for a long time in the Strasbourg hemicycle from a candidate for Commission President. She announced a European Conference, an unprecedented effort in citizen mobilisation, to which the Spinelli Group and the federalists have to offer their contribution and ideas.”

“The perspective of treaty reform brings our proposals back to the table, which we need to update if necessary. We also need to work to establish links between the European Parliament and national parliaments, which is fundamental for reform and for ratifying the treaty reform, for modifying the electoral law and also for a strong mobilisation outside the institutions. That’s something that the Spinelli Group, with the Union of European Federalists, has been able to do in the past.”

Why a federalist intergroup in the European Parliament?

The necessity of a federalist intergroup lies especially in the need to have the means to act on this exceptional political agenda. Recognised by the European Parliament, the intergroups bring together MEPs from multiple political leanings around a common cause, and benefit from logistical support from the Parliament.

Sandro Gozi said: “It’s firstly to more easily use the structures, the translation services, the rooms at the European Parliament. So there’s an important operational aspect. Then there’s an important political aspect. It’s about being recognised by the political groups and being more visible, because intergroups are a part of the political and formal landscape of the European Parliament. We’d be more visible both internally and externally, and promoting ourselves as a stakeholder in the new legislature of the European Parliament would help us a lot in achieving our objectives.”

To do this, group members present, including Guy Verhofstadt, Brando Benifei, Sven Giegold, Danuta Hübner and the group’s current president Andrew Duff exhorted the newly elected or re-elected members to join the group and to promote it within their political family.

To become an intergroup, the Spinelli Group will need support from at least three political group leaders in the European Parliament. In 2014, the Conference of Presidents confirmed the creation of 28 recognised intergroups that comply with the current rules.

This article was originally published in French on our sister edition Le Taurillon.

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