Following intense political negotiations, centre-right European People’s Party (EPP) candidate Antonio Tajani was elected this evening (17 January) as president of the European Parliament.
Tajani will hold the position for the next two and a half years after he secured 351 votes, while Socialists and Democrats (S&D group) challenger Gianni Pittella could only garner 282.
Only 633 out of 713 votes were valid, meaning 80 MEPs voted for neither candidate. Addressing the assembly for the first time, Tajani thanked MEPs for voting and said: “I will be the president of you all, I shall respect all the groups.”
Martin Schulz’s successor also pledged that he “won’t be prime minister for the EU, I will put forward the views of Parliament to the Council.”
Reiterating what had been said during the day’s proceedings, the new president also claimed that he does not have a political agenda and that his programme would mirror the Parliament’s. He also repeated the Commission’s priorities.
Tajani, a former Commissioner, also said he intends to have a small cabinet team and promised that it would set an example in terms of gender equality.
It is the second time in the Parliament’s history that a whole day was needed in order to elect a president but a series of political U-turns made by the political groups complicated the situation and made the result unpredictable until the very end.
In a surprise move, the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) announced in the morning that it had brokered a deal with the EPP, and that its candidate, Guy Verhofstadt, would step down and support Tajani.
The deal infuriated the S&D group, who had tried to build a similar agreement with ALDE before the elections.
After the EPP/ALDE deal, the Socialists tried to build up their own “progressive” coalition with the Greens and the European United Left-Nordic Green Left (GUE/NGL).
The Greens had a few stipulations, while the leftists were not at all convinced by the prospect of working with the Italian MEP as president. But even then, their numbers could not secure the necessary majority for Pittella.
The European Conservatives and Reformists’ (ECR) group, dominated by conservative British MEPs, initially opposed the ALDE/EPP team-up.
We refuse to endorse the agreement between the EPP and ALDE as many aspects represent failed policies of the past: https://t.co/hLu2qxyMGf
— ECR Group (@ecrgroup) January 17, 2017
But the ECR and Socialists did get along on one thing: their desire to see Guy Verhofstadt lose his Brexit negotiator post.
The British had feared that the Belgian would be too tough as a negotiator toward Westminster, while the S&D group claimed that they had lost faith in the former Belgian prime minister.
At the same time, the ECR asked Tajani to end the morning’s deal with the ALDE as it was “too pro-EU” for their political agenda.
In a move to calm down the ECR’s concerns, Tajani kept his distance from the coalition deal with the liberals.
He issued a statement, stressing that political parties do not always agree and there was a need to find solutions.
“These solutions are not found in more and more Europe, neither are they found in blowing up the European project,” the Italian MEP insisted, adding that it is not for the European Parliament president to push a political agenda.
“That’s up to you, members of the European Parliament […] you decide together the direction in which we go and how we give shape to these changes,” he noted.
Following Tajani’s statement, the ECR changed its mind and supported the EPP candidate.
— ECR Group (@ecrgroup) January 17, 2017
It’s still unclear, though, what concessions Tajani made in order to ensure the ECR votes.
Tomorrow’s new world
However, the day after the election will see the European Parliament polarised and divided.
The S&D group have promised not to join the new ALDE/EPP coalition and they might seek closer cooperation with the political forces on the left side of the spectrum.
But sources said that the group was rather happy to have gained its freedom of speech back, as the decision not to join a coalition was widely discussed during four of its meetings.
Martin Schulz even joined one of the sessions and listened in silence to the debates for more than half an hour.
“The last day of Schulz as president proved to be a rather tough one,” one Socialist opined. He saw the coalition exploding but also the way he had led the European Parliament as a very pro-European institution.
The losers will now focus on tomorrow’s vote to elect the 14 vice-presidents. The Socialists had five VPs while in coalition and that number is set to dwindle now they are out.