Renew Europe becomes a strong French voice - Stéphane Séjourné takes over as leader of the Liberal Group in the European Parliament
French MEP Stéphane Séjourné was elected on Tuesday 19 October in Strasbourg as the new leader of Renew Europe, the third largest group in the European Parliament. This will increase French influence within Renew, which has a total of 23 French MEPs. Séjourné was already chair of the French delegation Renaissance within the liberal group and, as a former advisor to Emmanuel Macron in the Elysée Palace, is considered as his loyal companion.
Proximity to French President Emmanuel Macron
Being personally very close to the French president, the candidacy of 36-year-old Stéphane Séjourné for the job was initially quite unclear: less than three months before the official start of the French EU Council presidency and the upcoming French presidential elections in April, Séjourné was already being dealt as a campaign leader for Macron in Paris. Other speculations consisted of seeing him even as a future leader of En Marche all together by replacing the Secretary General, Stanislas Guérini, should he hold a government post in the future. Before joining the European Parliament as a member of the Legal Affairs and Special Committee on Artificial Intelligence, he led En Marche's European election campaign. Therefore, the proposal to nominate him as a candidate probably came as a surprise to himself, and some critics within the French government majority in the National Assembly rumour that he may even have been somewhat disappointed. "He cannot be the leader of the French MPs. He must be the chairman of the whole group," one Renew member told Le Figaro. Notwithstanding these fears, Séjourné stressed his willingness to hold together the various threads within the parliamentary group and act as a unifying force. Hs announcement to move to Brussels permanently and give up his role as political advisor to Emmanuel Macron might facilitate this task.
The post of leader of the group had become vacant after the incumbent Dacian Cioloș, who was elected leader of Save Romania Union (USR Plus) and is now seeking his political future in national politics: thus, Cioloș was tasked by Romanian President Klaus Iohannis with forming a government.
Before Séjourné, Dutchwoman Sophie Int'Veld had entered the candidate stage. She has been an MEP for the Dutch D66 since 2004 and thus has far more experience on the European political level than Sejourné. Nevertheless, she withdrew her candidacy when it became increasingly clear that, beyond her clear profile and her verve, she was too polarising to be able to unite the group. This concern was also shared by the French delegation, which in the past had been able to rely on an ally in Cioloș, as the Romanian politician, not least due to his personal background (having studied himself in France and being married to a French woman), always sought to close ranks with the French within the group.
Challenges and opportunities ahead
The new position could prove strategically beneficial for Séjourné himself and for the further development within Renew. The range of positions within Renew is considerable, and disagreements have to be settled time and again. Now, in future, especially if the German FDP should be part of a future government in Germany, the weight of the Liberals on the European level as a whole could increase. Moreover, if Macron gets re-elected, clout and cohesion in the liberal-centrist group could benefit from a fresh Franco-German impulse
As leader of the French delegation, Séjourné has already gained experience in overcoming internal differences, since the French parties represented within the delegation (in addition to En Marche, the Mouvement Démocrate, Agir and the Mouvement Radical) are not always aligned on issues such as the European minimum salary, reforming the Stability and Growth Pact or free trade agreements, especially with Mercosur.
It remains to be seen what further power shifts the election of Séjourné will mean internally for Renew Europe. It is quite realistic that there will be further changes with regard to the chairs of committees within the European Parliament as a change of committee chairs is a common parliamentary practice after half of the legislative period.
Jeanette Süß is European Affairs Manager within the European Dialogue Program of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom in Brussels where she leads France-related activities.