The Brief: Can a weak president make the European Parliament stronger?

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CAN A WEAK PRESIDENT MAKE THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT STRONGER?

Antonio Tajani’s election as president of the European Parliament was not greeted with much enthusiasm.

MEPs were so uninspired by his candidacy, it took four whole rounds of voting for them to muster up the motivation to elect him in Strasbourg yesterday.

A former spokesman of Silvio Berlusconi, one of Europe’s most despised leaders, Tajani enjoyed two successive mandates at the European Commission – first in charge of transport, then industry – where he left few fond memories.

His command of his portfolios was considered weak and he is an unconvincing public speaker.

It is his discretion and lack of personal ambition that have served him best in the past. Tajani does not try to hide that fact.

Unlike his predecessor Martin Schulz, who led a very political presidency, Tajani’s goal is more modest – he wants to be a kind of spokesman for MEPs.

The Parliament has clearly plumped for a weak president. The real power in Strasbourg is now shifting firmly into the hands of political parties and the Conference of Presidents.

The other highlight of yesterday’s election is the official collapse of the “Grand Coalition” between the Socialists (S&D) and the centre-right Conservatives (EPP), which puts an end to the cosy, pro-European consensus across party lines.

The result is a divided Parliament, regrouped around the main political families, which will probably be more unpredictable and prone to heckling than under the presidency of Martin Schulz.

Expect much more vigorous debates than before, with clearer divisions between the right and left, notably on the economy, or questions such as Brexit, where MEPs will have to vote at the end of the negotiation process.

While parliamentary debates will probably become more entertaining as a result, it remains to be seen whether Europe itself will emerge strengthened or weakened under Tajani’s watch.

But the early signs don’t give much cause for optimism.

THE ROUNDUP

Competition Commissioner Magrethe Vestager has emerged as a favourite to take over the Commission vice-presidency vacated by Kristalina Georgieva.

The EU won’t punish Britain for Brexit or so claims Jean-Claude Juncker. Could this have had anything to do with Theresa May’s threat to turn a scolded Britain into a Singapore-style tax haven?

Other European leaders have had their say on yesterday’s blockbuster speech from Theresa May, which also spawned one of the weirdest front pages in history.

Britain’s Brexit boss David Davis revealed he made £1,000 by betting the UK would vote to leave the EU. The UK Supreme Court will give its judgement on the Article 50 Brexit case on Tuesday 24 January at 10.30AM.

Boris Johnson has also warned against Brexit “punishment beatings”  and mentioned World War Two…again!

The Hof was not at all impressed with Boris bringing up the war and Donald Tusk said that May was closer to Churchill than Trump. Don’t miss this incisive takedown of the chameleon-like Guy Verhoftstadt’s flagrant opportunism.

The German cabinet has suggested 24 September as the date for the country’s elections. The German president will now make a final decision.

A leading member of Germany’s right-wing AfD has criticised the Holocaust memorial in Berlin and called for the country to stop atoning for its Nazi past.

Bulgaria’s president has warned the country may lose its turn at holding the rotating presidency of the EU. Romania’s president has blocked a law to protect corrupt politicians from prosecution.

Amnesty has warned that the war on terror is dismantling human rights in Europe.

French vandals are attacking Spanish wine lorries and there’s yet more trouble for Europe’s beleaguered rival to America’s GPS.

The EU wants to halve food waste by 2030. Rome’s metro and schools were evacuated as four earthquakes struck today.

Barack Obama has transferred half a billion dollars to the Green Climate Fund, just three days before he leaves office. He also commuted Wikileaks whistleblower Chelsea Manning’s 35-year sentence before he hands over to Trump on Friday.

Serbia is counting on Trump over Kosovo but a senior EU diplomat say there’s no way he can renegotiate the Iran nuclear deal.

If Putin regains Ukraine, the Baltics are next. Meanwhile, Moscow is rubbing its hands at the prospect of interfering in elections in Europe this year.

And we have more coverage from Davos

LOOK OUT FOR…

Barack Obama’s final press conference as US president, which is due to start at 8PM. Will he diss The Donald?

Views are the author’s. 

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