European Parliament elects new president under increasing Euroscepticism
by Mehmet Solmaz
BRUSSELSJan 17, 2017 - 12:00 am GMT+3
by Mehmet Solmaz
Jan 17, 2017 12:00 am
Parliament members of the European Parliament will elect a new president on Tuesday after a long-standing coalition of pro-EU parties collapsed just as the crisis-hit bloc confronts a critical Eurosceptic atmosphere.
Although there are at least seven candidates running for the chairmanship, the main contenders are two Italians and a Belgian seeking to replace Martin Schulz, who decided to step down as the EP President to get involved in German politics. The top three candidates have voiced their opposition to the continuation of Ankara's EU negotiations and called for freezing the accession talks.
Italian politician Antonio Tajani, a former spokesman for Italy's scandal-plagued former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, is likely to win Tuesday's election in Strasbourg. Sixty-three-year-old Tajani, who served as the European commissioner for industry 2010-2014, is the candidate of the center-right European People's Party (EPP), the largest group in the EP.
Another Italian, Gianni Pittella - who is the head of the Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats, the second biggest group in Parliament and includes a large contingent of Italian members of the EP - is the other candidate for the chairmanship. He has been a member of the EP for nearly 20 years, but his weak English is seen as an obstacle to his impact in the media.
Former Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt of the Liberal party announced his candidacy and said in a recent interview that they need a president of the Parliament who will "continue the pro-European forces, and who will create a more integrated union." Verhofstadt, who is the Parliament's Brexit negotiator, saw his chances dip after a failed merger last week with Italy's Five Star Movement. Liberals negotiating a merger with a populist party brought fear to many people who think rising Euroscepticism will be the start of a new Europe.
Since 1979, for all but five years, the EPP and the Social Democrats have alternated the presidency under a coalition aimed at getting laws passed more easily. However, this tricky arrangement came to an end when sides could not agree on who should succeed Germany's Schulz.
EPP chief Manfred Weber blamed the Social Democrats, and said the "betrayal" by the other groups, who were expected to back Tajani, means that "they are responsible for the growing influence of the populists in this house."
Pittella, however, said he would not accept an EPP "monopoly" of the EU's top jobs. Jean-Claude Juncker, the former Luxembourg prime minister who heads the European Commission, the EU's executive arm, and ex-Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk, who leads the European Council, are both from the EPP.
The key to the result may now lie with the votes of the smaller populist and the anti-EU parties trying to break up the EU from within. Eurosceptic groups led by Britain's U.K. Independence Party (UKIP) and France's National Front made stunning gains in the last European Parliament elections in May 2014, changing the EU's political landscape.