After weeks of uncertainty following the hospitalisation of Wilfried Martens, the European People’s Party (EPP) announced that the former Belgian prime minister was handing over all responsibilities of his presidency to Joseph Daul, the EPP group chairman in the European Parliament.
In a statement released on 8 October, the European People’s Party stressed that Martens will “temporarily delegate his responsibilities as president to [EPP group chairman Joseph Daul], until further notice”.
Joseph Daul is chairman of the EPP group in the European Parliament and member of the centre-right Union pour un Movement Populaire (UMP) of former French President Nicolas Sarkozy. He assumes the role of substitute-president according to the EPP statutes.
At a press briefing at the Parliament’s plenary session in Strasbourg, Joseph Daul explained that “Wilfried called me last Friday to ask me if I could take over from him,” adding the president suffered “serious health problems”.
Wilfried Martens, aged 77, was hospitalised at the end of August for blood coagulation problems and was released on 9 September.
In previous announcements, the party said Martens had delegated responsibilities such as chairing EPP presidency meetings or the political assembly meetings, but that he was still able to follow developments from a distance.
His decision to hand over responsibilities comes as an acknowledgement that his health has not sufficiently improved. “The entire political family wishes him and his relatives strength,” said Kostas Sasmatzoglou, EPP spokesman.
Whether Martens will return to support the party’s European election campaign in 2014 remains uncertain. “We have to see what happens next,” Sasmatzoglou said, “but everyone understands this was necessary – if he was unable to fulfil his duties.”
Post-elections succession race
Martens co-founded the EPP in 1976 and has been serving as its president since 1990. He was prime minister of Belgium from 1979 to 1992 (briefly interrupted in 1981).
An earlier report by EurActiv revealed that discrete talks on Martens’ succession had already started when he was hospitalised at the end of August.
A number of possible candidates have been floated to succeed Martens as head of the party. These include Jerzy Buzek, former Polish Prime Minister and ex-president of the European Parliament and José María Aznar, former Spanish prime minister. An official succession could be decided after the elections in May 2014, depending on Martens’ condition.
A number of top EU jobs will be up for grabs after the 2014 European elections, including the European Commission presidency and the post of High EU Representative for foreign and security policy. The NATO secretary general position will also become vacant next year.
The identity of the next EPP president will also largely depend on the other positions that the European centre-right political family can obtain after the May election. The EPP is currently the largest political group in the European Parliament and the largest pan-European party.
The European People's Party (EPP) group is the largest in the European Parliament, with 274 elected MEPs.
Outside Parliament, the EPP currently has over 70 member-parties in 40 EU and non-EU countries. Its leaders are President Wilfried Martens and Secretary-General Antonio López-Istúriz. The EPP presidency has 18 members (more).
However, the EPP is the only major political family without a sister party in one of the largest EU countries, the UK.
The EPP’s political assembly defines the political positions of the party between each congress, held every three years.
The EPP holds summits prior to European Council summits. These sessions offer EPP leaders an informal and confidential setting to air their differences and seek consensus within the EPP family in an effort to develop common positions at the European Council.
- 13 Nov.: EPP party meeting discussing the profile of the Commission president candidate for elections
- 6-7 Mar. 2014: EPP congress in Dublin, designating the party’s EC president candidate
- 22-25 May 2014: European Parliament elections in 28 member states