Antonio Tajani becomes new European Parliament president
Veteran Italian MEP wins five-horse race to become EU assembly’s new president.
Antonio Tajani | Photo credit: European Parliament audiovisual
After an election on Tuesday in Strasbourg that went to the maximum four rounds, the veteran centre-right deputy emerged as the winner.
Tajani succeeds Socialist member Martin Schulz who has stood down to return to German politics.
In the final ballot, Tajani secured 351 votes, an absolute majority, while his main rival, the Socialist candidate Gianni Pittella, received 282.
It means the centre-right European Peoples’ Party (EPP) political grouping now holds the presidencies of each of the three main EU institutions: European Commission, Council and Parliament.
Tajani, who will serve until the next European elections in 2019, is a former EU commissioner and long standing MEP.
Tajani (63) was first elected as an MEP in 1994. He was a Vice-President of the Commission from 2008 until 2014, first as commissioner for transport (2008-10), then as commissioner for industry and entrepreneurship (2010-14). He became First Vice-President of the Parliament in 2014 and has been a Vice-President of the EPP since 2002.
As he shook hands in the chamber with his successor, Schulz told Tajani, “I congratulate you warmly. I wish you good luck as you carry out your mandate.”
European Council leader Donald Tusk hailed the importance of a position at the head of the EU’s only elected body at a time of crises in Europe.
“I congratulate Antonio Tajani as next European Parliament president and look forward to cooperating. A united, strong EU needs a constructive, effective EP,” Tusk said in a statement.
In the fourth round of voting 633 valid votes were cast and there were 80 abstentions.
A last minute – and controversial - electoral deal between the EPP, parliament’s biggest political group, and the Liberal ALDE group paved the way for his victory. Guy Verhofstadt, the ALDE leader, dropped out of the race at the 11th hour in order to help secure Tajani’s victory.
Reaction to the result was swift with some members branding Tajani as “unsuitable” for the prestige post.
But Pittella, the S&D group leader in the parliament and fellow Italian, was more conciliatory, saying,” I want to congratulate Tajani. I am confident he will interpret his new role with full respect for the equal rights and prerogatives of all groups and MEPs.
“I sincerely want to thank the S&D group for its full, united and fervent support, and all the colleagues from other groups that voted for me. It was a fantastic race, one which I am proud to have participated in.
Further comment came from GUE/NGL leader Gabi Zimmer, who said, “We are democrats and whilst we respect the result of this election, we are naturally disappointed by Tajani’s victory.”
“Our group has long been critical of the backroom deals and ‘grand coalition’ politics of Parliament. Today is no different, for, it was an agreement between the right-wing and ALDE's Guy Verhofstadt which have resulted in an EPP candidate becoming the new president.”
She added, “Due to his past role in the European Commission which oversaw the ‘dieselgate’ scandal and track record on gender equality, we have long regarded Tajani - a founding member of Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia party - as an unsuitable candidate for the presidency.”
Zimmer added, “This presidential vote has been a watershed moment: it broke up the long-standing ‘Grand Coalition’.”
EPP group leader Manfred Weber hailed Tajani as a “true pro-European” who he said had “dedicated his political career to Europe.”
Weber added, “He will be a strong and a reliable partner for the whole Parliament. We warmly congratulate Antonio Tajani on this result.”
EPP president Joseph Daul, a former leader of the group, extended his “wholehearted congratulations” to Tajani following a “transparent, open and democratic competition.”
The French MEP said, “Tajani is a friend, a committed European, a man of his word and a long-time advocate for citizens’ well-being. Parliament, as the only directly elected EU institution, needs an experienced leader to enable it to reconnect with EU citizens and focus on issues that will make a difference in people’s lives.
Daul added, “At a time when many question the EU, Tajani is the right person for the job: he believes in Europe and will make sure that parliament fulfils the expectations of the people of Europe.”
Ska Keller and Philippe Lamberts, the joint leaders of the Greens/EFA group, which held hearings with each of the candidates, issued a statement which said, “Tajani now has to fulfil the commitments he made to our group and in plenary. We don't agree with Tajani on many topics, including women's rights or how to work with lobbyists. As the new president, he has to leave his political past behind him and stand above his personal convictions.”
European Green party co-chairs Reinhard Bütikofer and Monica Frassoni said, “Tajani was elected by a centre-right coalition. We will take seriously his promise to work in a fair manner for all MEPs and judge him on this basis.
“In a particularly difficult time, in which increasing dangers hang over the cohesion of the EU we believe that parliament needs to regain its central role of defender of the European democratic space.”
More reaction came from EPP secretary general, Antonio López-Istúriz, who said his fellow MEP’s election was “excellent news for the institution, for Europe and for all Europeans.”
He said, “Tajani is also a triumph for parliament. From now on, the Euro chamber will have a president of consensus and dialogue who will restore its stability and institutional role.”
Tajani, he said, is “serious and responsible, a loyal person” who “will be an excellent president, the leader that Europe needs, especially in these decisive times for its future”.
In a statement, the president of the Brussels-based Committee of the Regions, Markku Markkula said, “Tajani's leadership will be pivotal to bring the EU and its policies closer to the wishes, expectations and needs of European citizens. The success of Europe will also rely on its local and regional decision-makers, given that they are in constant contact with the ever changing reality on the ground.”
He went on, “We have no doubt that Tajani will be pragmatic in his approach, visionary in his thoughts and innovative in his actions.“
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