Five centre-right candidates are in the running to become the next president of the European Parliament. But after five years in the job, Martin Schulz has no intention of stepping down. EURACTIV France reports.
As the European Parliament approaches the middle of its mandate at the start of 2017, right-wing MEPs are lining up to challenge Schulz for the presidency.
The institution’s two biggest political groups, the Socialists and Democrats (S&D) and the European People’s Party (EPP), usually agree to hold the presidency for half a mandate each.
But bolstered by the support of European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, S&D MEP Schulz does not mean to vacate his position just yet.
In an interview with Der Spiegel, Juncker said the EU needed stability and should “be steered in the same way over the next two and a half years”. This remark went down very badly with the EPP, and the Commission President was summoned to explain himself to his own political family in Strasbourg.
In the centre of the Parliament, any designs Guy Verhofstadt may have had on the presidency were nipped in the bud when Juncker named him head of the Brexit task force. But a good number of candidates are still in the running.
Five EPP candidates
Despite Juncker’s support for his parliamentary counterpart, the EPP group has already begun the process of selecting its candidate. At the front of the queue is French MEP Alain Lamassoure.
As president of the TAXE special committee that investigated tax optimisation in the wake of the Luxleaks scandal, the leader of the French Republican delegation in the European Parliament enjoys a reputation as an expert in the workings of the Parliament.
Another, more controversial candidate is the Italian Antonio Tajani. Already one of the institution’s 14 vice-presidents, he served as the European Commissioner for Transport and then for Industry under José Manuel Barroso, and questions have been raised about his implication in the Volkswagen emissions scandal.
But for the Greens, electing this confidant of Silvio Berlusconi is a red line they are not prepared to cross. “There are people in the EPP who have the qualities needed to run the Parliament. Antonio Tajani is not one of them,” said Philippe Lamberts, a Belgian Green MEP.
The other centre-right candidates are the Slovene Alojz Peterle, the Austrian Othmar Karas and the only woman in the running, Irish MEP Mairead McGuinness.
“Nobody has yet officially announced their candidacy,” an EPP source said. The group will meet on 13 September to set the timetable for the selection of its candidate, which promises to be a difficult process.
But if the decision takes too long, the EPP may find itself playing catch-up with the left. “If they present their candidate before we present ours, they will have broken our agreement,” said Lamassoure.
No plan B for the Socialists
For the Socialists and Democrats, there is no question of replacing Schulz. The EU’s left wing lawmakers believe the correct response to the EU’s current difficulties is to ensure stabiliy at the head of the institution.
Another commonly-used argument is that the political balance of the EU’s political institutions should be respected. If the EPP take control of the Parliament, all three European institutions will have centre-right presidents.
“Martin Schulz has been the European Parliament’s best president. He has increased the prestige of the institution. Just for this, he should continue,” said S&D group leader Gianni Pitella. “If Schulz is not re-elected, we will have EPP leaders in all the institutions. This is inconceivable,” he added.
Off the record, some socialist MEPs expressed their concern about the concessions that would inevitably have to be made in order for the left to hold on to this position. Others are worried about the German politician’s increasingly authoritarian leanings and would prefer to see him run for the German Chancellery instead, a possibility he has not ruled out.
For some lawmakers, the political balance argument is an irrelevance. “The Parliament is not the only European institution,” said Lamberts, the co-president of the Greens group.
He believes the S&D group could also negotiate the nomination of a socialist as head of the European Council. Particularly as Donald Tusk is a highly discreet Council president and the subject of regular criticism within his own political family.
But a parliamentary source told EURACTIV.fr that “there is no plan B for the socialist group, and nobody will stand against Martin Schulz”.
“Jean-Claude Juncker’s support for Martin Schulz is just a way to keep the socialists under control,” said Lamberts.