Author: Aleksandra Eriksson
Posted: 24 November 2016
Manfred Weber has urged socialist, liberal and green MEPs to rally behind a common candidate for the next president of the European Parliament or risk that a eurosceptic lands the job.
The leader of the parliament’s centre-right EPP group made his call on Thursday (24 November), shortly after the current president, Martin Schulz, announced he would not seek another term and would try his luck in German politics instead.
“The great achievement of Martin Schulz was to help building a strong and stable coalition between the [centre-left] S&D and the EPP, which also included good cooperation with the liberals. Thanks to this, we managed to make sure the European Parliament is able to deliver,” Weber said.
“It is crucial this stability is safeguarded. We want to make sure that the role of radical and extremist MEPs is limited and that they cannot influence major EU decisions,” he added.
The parliament’s largest groups, the EPP and the socialists, have a long-standing practice of dividing the presidency between them, each filling half of the five-year term.
But Schulz had been hinting that he did not consider the agreement to be binding. He only threw in the towel after months of machinations to stay in his post.
The German social democrat even managed to enroll the support of the EPP-affiliated president of the European Commission behind his bid. Jean-Claude Juncker had said that the German left-wing politician should stay on because the two were working well together, bringing stability in times of crisis.
Weber refused to give in to such arguments, saying that stability is also dependent on living up to promises one makes.
Looking for a candidate
The EPP will choose its candidate for the post on 13 December, and candidates can sign up until the day before.
Only two MEPs have so far formally thrown their hat into the race: Irishwoman Mairead McGuinness, currently one of the parliament’s 14 vice-presidents; and veteran Frenchman Alain Lamassoure.
Italian ex-commissioner and Berlusconi ally, Antonio Tajani and Slovenian ex-prime minister Alojz Peterle also figure as possible candidates. When pressured by journalists on Thursday, Weber did not rule out he would run himself.
Neither did he state clearly that the next president of the parliament had to come from the EPP group, which opened up for speculations that a liberal – for instance, group leader Guy Verhofstadt – also stood a chance.
The S&D group remained tight-lipped on whether it would seek to replace Schulz with another candidate, but loudly protested against the perspective of being left without any EU leadership post.
“Martin’s decision will dramatically change the political dynamic within the EU institutions. A right-wing monopoly on the EU institutions would be unacceptable,” S&D leader Gianni Pittella said in a statement.
Such concerns left the presidents of the EU Council and Commission saying they were not ready to leave their seats quite yet.
“I am in quite good shape. I finished the last half-marathon of Brussels in significantly less than two hours,” council president Donald Tusk joked at a press conference after an EU-Ukraine summit in Brussels.
Jean-Claude Juncker quipped he did not run marathons but was running between meetings.
Juncker’s five-year mandate expires in October 2019.
Tusk’s term ends in May. The government of his native Poland has said they would not support him for another term, but would not block his re-election by other member states either.
End of the ‘grand coalition’?
Meanwhile, the parliament’s conservative group, ECR, said the EU would be best served by an end to the grand coalition between the EPP and S&D.
“With Martin Schulz now leaving the parliament we have an opportunity to change how the institution is run so that every voice matters and all MEPs can finally have a say in the future of our European Union,” said ECR presidential-hopeful Helga Stevens in a statement.
“Decisions should be made by all 751 MEPs in open debate, not by three men from the parliament meeting with two men from the commission in a hotel backroom,” she added.