Race to become new European Parliament president hots up

Contest developing into fight between male ‘backroom stitch up’ and female ‘fresh blood’ candidates.

According to 'grand coalition' struck between the EPP and S&D groups, presidency should, come January, fall into EPP hands |Photo credit: European Parliament audiovisual

By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

01 Dec 2016

Gianni Pittella, the leader of the European Parliament's Socialist group, is the latest to throw his hat into the ring in the race to replace Martin Schulz as the assembly’s next President.

Pittella announced he had joined the race to become the institution's next president at a news conference in Brussels on Wednesday.

The Socialists and Democrats group unanimously backed Pittella as their candidate for the presidency.


The Italian member said he would run on an “anti-austerity agenda.”

Pittella said, “It is an honour to accept this new challenge. My candidacy is for change. With Martin Schulz’s departure from the Parliament presidency the balance among the political families within the EU Institutions has gone. We will never accept a right-wing monopoly controlling the EU institutions. It is not a matter of names but a matter of principles and ideas.

"We want to put an end to the blind austerity and the national selfishness that has degraded the European Union. We want to put forward a vision based on left-wing ideas, principles and strategies as an alternative to those advocated by the right.

"If we want to deal with the challenges and threats facing Europe then we cannot simply defend the status quo. Our strength is in our unity. Our strength is in being a force for genuine change. It is only through this change that we can save Europe."

MEPs will elect the man or woman to succeed Schulz in a secret ballot on 17 January.

According to the so-called 'grand coalition' struck between the EPP and S&D groups, the presidency should, come January, fall into EPP hands. This, however, has angered a number of MEPs, who have spoken out against the "backroom stitch up deals" reached to make important decisions, including who should be President.

Though she is thought unlikely to win, ALDE group's Sylvie Goulard says she will also stand as a candidate in January.

Asked by this website why she believes she is best suited to the post, Goulard insists she is "modest" but that "there needs to be a debate and we must ask ourselves what profile the best candidate for the job should have."

Another declared candidate, Helga Stevens, welcomed his decision and "potentially" the candidacy of ALDE leader Guy Verhofstadt.

The ECR group member said, "For around a decade, the next President of the European Parliament has been decided in a backroom by a few men. I welcome the fact that this now looks more like an open contest where MEPs get to decide on who can best bring the Parliament together and move forward at a time when trust and confidence need to be rebuilt.

"Unfortunately, both Pittella and Verhofstadt represent the same culture of backroom dealing that has demeaned this Parliament over the past few years. Fresh blood is needed in the President's chair, not someone who has sought to pre-cook every major decision out of public scrutiny, but someone who believes that in the European Parliament every voice matters.

"I am still the only candidate wanting to involve every one of the parliament's 751 MEPs in how the EU develops in the coming years. These decisions need to be made by all MEPs, representing the vast diversity of Europe and its 500 million citizens, not by a few men from a couple of states.

"I want the EU to succeed by offering real solutions to major challenges that our voters face, but it cannot do that if we elect another member of the backroom stitch-up society as our next President."

Schulz, 60, the President since 2012,will return to German politics, fuelling speculation that he might challenge Chancellor Angela Merkel, who plans to seek a fourth term in elections next year.

Speculation about his return to German politics gained new momentum after Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Germany’s foreign minister, was tapped to become the country’s next President.

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