Antonio Tajani of the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP) was voted in by MEPs as the new President of the European Parliament.
On 17 January, MEPs elected Antonio Tajani of the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP), Parliament’s largest group, as the new President of the European Parliament by 351 votes in the fourth and final ballot in what was one of the most competitive elections in the institution’s modern history. Gianni Pittella of the second largest party, Socialists & Democrats (S&D), received 282 votes.
While the European Parliament is elected for a five-year term, the President and Vice-Presidents are elected by their peers for a two-and-a-half year period.
There has been a long-lasting tradition of the EPP and S&D Groups splitting the two two-and-a-half years terms between them. However, as the former President S&D’s Martin Schulz’s term was coming to an end, Pittella, who is head of the S&D Group, decided to break this so-called ‘power-sharing agreement’ by announcing his candidacy in November 2016.
In another twist, EPP and the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) decided to form a pro-European coalition with its leader, Guy Verhofstadt, dropping out of the race in a move that won the vote for Tajani but attracted criticism of Verhofstadt, who some saw as willing to do just about anything to strengthen his position.
Tajani himself comes not without controversy.He a confidant of the divisive former Italian Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi, who nominated him for two terms in the Commission from 2008 to 2014, during which time Tajani played an integral role in José Manuel Barroso’s Presidency of the Commission.
Most notably, Tajani was allegedly informed in 2012, when he was Industry Commissioner, by the manager of an autoparts supplier about manipulation of emissions tests and the existence of so-called defeat devices. In 2015, it came to light that Volkswagen was using such technology, leading Tajani to be assessed for his complicity in the affair by a European Parliament investigative committee.
Tajani’s victory means that the EPP has the leadership of all three EU institutions - the Parliament, Commission (led by Jean-Claude Juncker) and the Council (led by Donald Tusk).
Tajani however, in a dig to Schulz who gained a reputation for meddling in all aspects of parliamentary life, stated that “it is not for the European Parliament president to push a political agenda”, saying instead that he would remain neutral and let MEPs take the lead on defining political priorities.
Indeed, the President’s role is to represent the Parliament vis-à-vis the outside world and in its relations with the other EU institutions, to oversee the work of the Parliament and debates in plenary and ensure that Parliament’s Rules of Procedure are adhered to, rather than to make policy.
Nevertheless, his election marks a victory for the centre-right, with the group’s chairman, Manfred Weber, describing 17 January as ” a good day for the EPP”.
The day after the election of Tajani, the institution’s 14 Vice-Presidents were elected, including four EPP candidates and five S&D candidates.