EU Parliament’s new centrist pact working well, say Weber and Verhofstadt
New arrangement sends strong signal that pro-European forces are willing to work together, say pair.
Unlikely pairing of Manfred Weber and Guy Verhofstadt looking to attract further pro-European parties | Photo credit: European Parliament audiovisual
The leaders of the European Parliament’s centre-right and Liberal groups have made a robust defence of the recent partnership pact they made for the remainder of the current assembly’s legislature.
Speaking at a news conference on Wednesday, Manfred Weber, who heads up the EPP group, Parliament’s biggest, said the partnership was "working well."
Under the pact, Parliament’s Liberal ALDE grouping agreed to enter into a "pro-European" pact with the EPP. The two groups agreed to pursue a centrist alliance for the remaining two and a half years of the legislature and also agreed that the ALDE group's 68 MEPs would back the EPP candidate, Antonio Tajani, for the assembly’s presidency post.
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- Verhofstadt admits dalliance with 5 Star movement was a mistake
- ALDE-5 Star Movement deal collapses
ALDE group leader Guy Verhofstadt then agreed to withdraw his candidacy for Parliament’s top job.
The hasty arrangement, just before Christmas, came after Socialist group leader Gianni Pittella scrapped his party’s traditional 'grand coalition' deal with the EPP under which the Parliament’s presidency is normally shared between the two biggest groups.
Despite being dubbed by detractors as a "marriage of convenience", Weber, speaking in Parliament in Strasbourg on Wednesday, defended the arrangement, saying it "sent out a strong signal" that "pro-European forces" in the Parliament were willing to work together on a range of portfolios.
He said one example was the agreement to back the EU-Canada CETA trade deal, which MEPs approved in a vote on Wednesday.
Another example cited was the backing the two parties will give to three own initiative reports on the future of Europe, which will be voted on later this week.
Weber told reporters, "It has only been a few weeks, but the partnership is working. It makes good sense. We are not after ideological fights, but trying to find solutions to Europe’s problems."
He added, "Donald Trump wants to build walls but we want to build bridges. It is not about more Europe but a better Europe."
His comments were echoed by Verhofstadt, who came under personal attack in some quarters for linking up with the EPP after a similar deal with the Parliament’s eurosceptic 15-strong Five Star Movement came to nothing.
The Belgian MEP said, "I am happy with this partnership. It is the way forward. My group obviously doesn’t enjoy a majority in Parliament but we want to be the backbone of a majority.
"It is not a question of competing with others but cooperating with them."
Verhofstadt, who is also the European Parliament’s official Brexit negotiator, also appealed to "other pro-European parties" to join the EPP/ALDE pact.