The newly elected president of the European Parliament David Sassoli has admitted he was “a little taken aback” when put forward for the assembly’s top post.
Speaking at a short news briefing in the European Parliament’s Strasbourg Building on Wednesday, the Italian Socialist MEP revealed he had only been nominated late on Tuesday after a three day EU summit ended with the distribution of the EU’s top jobs.
Following a second round of voting he was elected to the Parliament’s top job on Wednesday afternoon after a secret ballot of MEPs. After getting 345 votes, he succeeds fellow Italian centre-right member Antonio Tajani.
Second was the ECR’s Jan Zahradil, followed by Ska Keller, a Greens MEP, and lastly, Sira Rego from the Left-leaning GUE group.
Sassoli, a surprise choice for the post, admitted, “I have to say that I was taken a little aback when my name was put forward. But I am not the European Council’s man’s, I am parliament’s man. I want to make that clear.”
“The Parliament made its own, autonomous choice. That is a guarantee for the future.”
He also threw his support behind the package of EU top jobs agreed at the summit but admitted, though, that the appointments had “now given rise to a discussion in other groups and political families.”
He went on, “We need to ensure everyone has a say on this and can express their views. That is my responsibility as president.”
Sassoli said, “I believe this debate will take place in an orderly way. We need this debate if we are going to show we are up the level of democracy.”
“I have to say that I was taken a little aback when my name was put forward. But I am not the European Council’s man’s, I am parliament’s man. I want to make that clear” Newly elected president of the European Parliament, David Sassoli
MEPs will vote on the new commission president later this month.
On the "Spitzenkandidaten" (lead candidate) process – which had been cast aside at the summit – he admitted, “We need to examine such measures to see what improvements can be made. We still believed the Spitzenkandidaten process would be applied automatically, in other words, that the biggest group after the elections would have its candidate appointed.”
“However, we have seen that this decision still lies in the Council’s hands. So, we need a debate on this issue and to examine ways in which the tools serving EU democracy could be improved.”
“I can assure you that communication, dialogue and an exchange of views will happen everyone.”
He also admitted that, when parliament is asked to ratify the choice of German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen as the new European Commission president the nomination might be “met with resistance by some groups.”
He reminded reporters that until recently he had been a journalist and that he believes it is “important that journalism can be carried out independently.”
“There were pre-election predictions that the EU would come out of the polls weaker but, on the contrary, it has come out stronger. It is important now that we focus on how EU democracy functions” Newly elected president of the European Parliament, David Sassoli
The deputy said, “The parliament needs to further improve relations with the media so that we keep people abreast of what is happening here and that parliament is better known by the general public.
“Yes, we want to be criticised but it is also important people know more about what is happening in the institutions, particularly the parliament. Media coverage is important to create more democracy.”
He added, “Today is a very important day for me not least as it is the first day of the new parliament.”
He said the elections had “shown that people believe in the EU and this cannot be discounted.
“There were pre-election predictions that the EU would come out of the polls weaker but, on the contrary, it has come out stronger. It is important now that we focus on how EU democracy functions.”
Sassoli was born in Florence and has been an MEP since 2009. He was re-elected on a Partito Democratico list in Central Italy in May 2019 for a third term and will lead Parliament until January 2022.
Announcing he will propose a “conference on EU democracy,” he added “It is important to provide information and we did that in the campaign. It was top notch and the audience figures were very high and that should act as the gold standard for us. We have to ensure communication of this type becomes the norm. Often people are unaware of what’s going on here and the media don’t necessarily have all the information they need to explain it all. This creates a gulf with the citizens.
“But Parliament must be full of colour and that also includes when people feel a sense of rage.”
He admitted that “whenever something goes wrong in Europe, such as the migration and asylum crisis, people ask: where is Europe? what is Europe doing?
“This is why we need to ensure member states cooperate more with each other.”
In a brief address to the European Parliament in Strasbourg immediately after the vote, Sassoli thanked the 9th legislature MEPs “for their confidence in him.”
He said, “In these months, too many people have fuelled divisions and conflicts that we thought were a sad reminder of our history. Instead, the citizens have shown that they still believe in this extraordinary path, the only one capable of providing answers to the global challenges before us”.
“We must have the strength to relaunch our integration process, changing our Union so to be able to respond more strongly to the needs of our citizens and give real answers to their concerns, to their increasingly widespread sense of loss.”
Sassoli also underlined the priorities that the Parliament will have to pursue in the coming years. “We are immersed in momentous transformations: youth unemployment, migration, climate change, the digital revolution, the new world balance, just to name a few, which need new ideas and courage”.