June 14. 2024. 1:24

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Resurgent ALDE moves to retake Liberal lead from defeated French

France’s influence within the liberal Renew Europe group is under threat with the Renaissance delegation down 10 seats and Valérie Hayer’s President stature heavily weakened following her call to kick Dutch allies out.

As of Monday afternoon (10 June), with European elections results close to final, the liberal-leaning Renew Europe group claimed a net loss of 23 MEPs, from 102 to 79, including 10 from the French delegation alone.

The Liberals are set to remain part of the coalition with social-democrat (S&D) and conservatives (EPP) partners, but their overall influence is likely to wane.

With negotiations rapidly underway to decide the new composition of parliamentary groups, doubts are emerging over the gravitas France will have in Renew, itself re-branded by French President Emmanuel Macron in 2019.

The group has been under French leadership since 2021 – first with Stéphane Séjourné before he became foreign minister and passed on the baton to Valérie Hayer in January. It was long seen as a conduit for Macron to exercise influence within the European Parliament.

“Not the main leaders anymore”

This influence is now called into question with a fresh political crisis in France and elections scheduled for 30 June and 7 July, where the far-right Rassemblement National is expected to perform well.

That’s all the truer with Renaissance MEPs reduced from 23 to 13, and group President Hayer’s authority dented further after calling to expel Dutch VVD MEPs after they formed a national coalition with the far-right in the Netherlands.

“We will have informal talks with the head of the delegation on this particular situation this week,” Hayer said once again on Monday.

But those informal talks among all Renew delegations scheduled for Tuesday (11 June) now appear to have been dropped off the agenda.

“My role as group President is to enable an exchange of views and take coherent decisions,” she added – a watered-down take on her stronger claim in May that “the option of remaining allies is not acceptable, because [VVD] does not respect our values by making this alliance [with the far-right]”.

That earlier positioning “cut short any collective conversation,” an MEP told Euractiv, under the condition of anonymity. “Her take to kick VVD out at once is certainly not shared by all”.

“There is no question” that collaboration will continue with VVD, German liberal lead candidate Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmermann confirmed to Euractiv on Monday.

The Dutch Liberals “are experienced colleagues,” said a member of Czechia’s ANO party, whose membership of Renew has clashed with their increasingly Eurosceptic views.

“If Renew chairman Hayer and Macron’s other proselytisers don’t like the smell in the bakery – well, they can just leave,” Danish liberal MEP Morten Lokkegaard said back in May.

All this marks a contrast from January, when VVD’s potential alliance with the Dutch anti-islam PVV was partly why Malik Azmani had to drop out of the race for group president at the last minute, leaving Hayer to run unopposed.

Hayer’s credibility took another hit after she reached out to German and Belgian counterparts for their support for her re-election, a move judged to be a circumvention of collegial decision-making, sources at Renew confirmed.

Taken together, there is a lot feeding Renew frustration with the French. “Obviously they’re not the main leaders anymore,” the MEP from ANO concluded.

Could ALDE benefit from France’s waning influence?

It is all but certain that ALDE, a liberal faction within Renew Europe bringing together a majority of the group’s delegations and MEPs, including VVD’s, will seek to politically gain from this situation.

ALDE’s vote gains overall – in contrast to Renaissance’s plummeting – “show a clear mandate to take responsibility,” and are “a legitimacy call”, a high-ranking party member told Euractiv on condition of anonymity.

Potential replacements for Hayer are already being floated, including former Belgian Prime Minister Sophie Wilmès, and former Czech Prime Minister Ludovit Odor, both of whom experienced surging electoral support on Sunday.

“ALDE MEPs will constitute the majority of the next Renew Europe group (…) and so there is a level of expectation that some key responsibilities and positions of leadership will come to ALDE in the next mandate,” the high-ranking source added.

Renew has until 26 June to agree on its composition and leadership. ALDE is expected to tackle the question of VVD membership at a Summit in Vilnius on 21-22 June.

Read more with Euractiv

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