quinta-feira, 29 de setembro de 2016
Scramble to lead European Parliament
Scramble to lead European Parliament
Schulz appears unwilling to cede his post.
By MAÏA DE LA BAUME 9/30/16, 5:27 AM CET
A broken deal between the European Parliament’s two main blocs has turned the election for the assembly’s president — a foregone conclusion the last time around — into a free-for-all.
Martin Schulz, the current president from the Socialists & Democrats, looks reluctant to honor his promise to Manfred Weber of the conservative European People’s Party to step down after his second two-and-a-half-year term and make way for the EPP — which won’t give up without a fight.
While the 2014 secret ballot among MEPs was largely ignored beyond Brussels and Strasbourg, the coming contest on January 17 has some of the suspense of a real election, largely thanks to behind-the-scenes maneuvering by Schulz, who hasn’t declared his candidacy. Along with the president, MEPs will renew the vice presidents, committee chairs and group presidents.
“This election is a leap into the unknown,” said Charles de Marcilly, who heads the Brussels office of the Fondation Robert Schuman, a French think tank. “But it will certainly re-inject more politics into the Parliament engine.”
It wasn’t supposed to be this exciting. Under the 2014 negotiations which made Jean-Claude Juncker president of the European Commission, Schulz would get another term running the Parliament, then hand over to someone from the opposing bloc.
“The assumption was that the president of the European Council had to be a Socialist. And that didn’t happen” — Udo Bullmann, German MEP
Since then, the German Social Democrat appears to have lost the support of prominent European center-left leaders and the Conservatives have fielded a motley crew of candidates, including a former spokesperson for Silvio Berlusconi and the former presenter of an Irish reality TV show called “Celebrity Farm.” The Liberals, who were also part of the 2014 power-sharing deal, are forwarding Belgium’s Guy Verhofstadt and the Greens insist it’s a woman’s turn.
Since no political group holds a majority in the 751-seat assembly, winning the presidential contest requires a coalition — hence the power-sharing deal between the EPP and the S&D to take turns holding the presidency, with each group supporting the other’s candidate. The EPP has 215 seats and the S&D has 189. If that coalition breaks down, Schulz would need to find more than 180 votes from among the assembly’s seven other factions.
MEPs and Parliament officials say Schulz has been working stealthily for months to convince colleagues he should stay on in the role, arguing that it is important not to let all three EU presidencies be held by center-right politicians: Like Juncker, European Council President Donald Tusk is a member of the EPP.
But many MEPs are weary of Schulz’s presidential approach to the job and his high profile in the media, saying what they really need is a speaker of the house to chair plenary sessions and organize parliamentary work.
“The Parliament can be politicized in a different way, in a more inclusive way,” said Alojz Peterle, former prime minister of Slovenia and one of the EPP’s candidates for the presidency.
Juncker, however, has thrown his weight behind Schulz, arguing that EU institutions should be led for the next two-and-a-half years “as they have been thus far.”
“Europe is facing difficult times and at such a moment it is good for Brussels institutions to work well together,” Juncker told the German magazine Der Spiegel, arguing for the continuance of what he called “a proven team” consisting not just of Schulz and Tusk, but Weber and Gianni Pittella as the floor leaders of the main center-right and center-left blocs.
The new jobs would be spread proportionately among all the Parliament's political groups
While members of the EPP say the 2014 deal must be respected, many in the S&D group argue that it was rendered obsolete when Poland’s Tusk got the presidency of the Council at the end of 2014 — a post they had expected to go to the center-left’s Enrico Letta, a former Italian prime minister whose candidacy was scuppered by his successor in Rome, Matteo Renzi .
“The assumption was that the president of the European Council had to be a Socialist,” said Udo Bullmann, a German MEP from the S&D group. “And that didn’t happen.”
Although national leaders like Renzi don’t get a direct vote in the Parliament presidency, their endorsement matters — and even some center-left leaders are unenthusiastic about Schulz.
One European diplomat said that despite “good personal relations” between Schulz and François Hollande, the French president is likely to back EPP candidate Alain Lamassoure, a longtime French MEP and former minister. A senior official in the European Parliament said Hollande had told him that Schulz had lost the support of both Paris and Rome.
Manfred Weber, the 44-year-old president of the EPP which is the largest political group in the assembly, is emerging as a key player in the contest.
“He told me: ‘Neither Renzi nor I support Schulz,” the official said.
However, Italian officials and MEPs said Renzi’s government still supports Schulz. “He is a Socialist and has helped Rome on austerity and migration,” said one Italian official, adding the caveat however that “Schulz has stepped on many toes” and made “many enemies” in Europe.
Angela Merkel hasn’t tipped her hand yet, but German MEPs wouldn’t necessarily back the conservative chancellor “if she pleads for Schulz’s cause,” said one official, adding: “She no longer has the absolute authority she had before.”
Manfred Weber, the 44-year-old president of the EPP which is the largest political group in the assembly, is emerging as a key player in the contest. Despite the S&D’s objections to having a triumvirate of EPP presidents in Brussels, his group intends to select a candidate by December 13. So far, the declared EPP candidates are Lamassoure, Peterle, the former Irish TV presenter Mairead McGuinness and Italy’s Antonio Tajani, a former commissioner and a spokesperson for Berlusconi.
However, Weber may also be coming under pressure to clear the path for Schulz. Der Spiegel reported that Juncker and Schulz took Weber to lunch at the Commission and urged him not to upset the current cohabitation between the EPP and S&D. Weber and Schulz get along “very well,” according to one Parliament official. He’s not the only conservative to like Schulz: Karl-Heinz Florenz, another German EPP member, praised Schulz for raising the assembly’s profile.
“I would be happy to see him at the top team of the EU,” Florenz told the German newspaper Bild. “He did his job well and he is a strong European.” Contacted by POLITICO, Florenz said he stood by the comment.
Jacopo Barigazzi contributed to this article.
Maïa de La Baume