Martin Schulz, a German MEP and former Socialists and Democrats leader, was elected president of the European Parliament yesterday (January 17) in Strasbourg, promising a more assertive and controversial Parliament in the face of MEPs’ marginalisation in the eurozone crisis. EURACTIV France reports from Strasbourg.
Schulz received 387 of 670 votes, a thin majority in the 754-member Parliament. His two opponents, British MEPs Diana Wallis (Liberals and Democrats) and Nirj Deva (European Conservatives and Reformists) received 141 and 142 votes respectively.
It seems some members of the two biggest groups, the European People’s Party (EPP) and the Socialists and Democrats, did not respect the compromise deal agreed in 2009 to elect Schulz at the Parliament’s mid-term (see Background).
The ‘technical agreement’, which has been notably denounced by the French socialist delegation to the Parliament, reduces the likelihood of the two groups from breaking with consensus.
Not wanting to ruffle the feathers of other institutions, previous presidents such as the outgoing Jerzy Buzek (EPP, Poland) and Josep Borrell (S&D, Spain) had largely steered clear of controversy. As result, their political positions have been “soothing, without any interest”, says Florent Saint-Martin, an associate professor at the French Institute for Political Studies (Sciences Po) and co-author of a book on the European Parliament.
Facing up to the member states
In his acceptance speech, Schulz condemned in particular the Parliament’s marginalisation in finding solutions to the eurozone crisis, saying “the representatives of the peoples of Europe have essentially been reduced to the role of rubber-stamping agreements reached among governments in back rooms in Brussels.”
“Our shared aim must be to exercise to the full the powers which have been conferred on us – even if the result is a political dispute,” he added.
Leaders of the Parliament’s smaller groups expressed hope that Schulz would not be as consensual a president as his predecessors.
“I hope you will remain as inconvenient and as hard-hitting as you were as a simple MEP,” said Rebecca Harms, co-leader of the Greens.
Guy Verhofstadt, leader of the Liberal Group, favoured a president with opinion. "It is not possible to stay neutral in the face of the attack on the community method of the Council,” he said.
Eyeing the Commission?
It may be difficult to turn the Parliament into a more assertive body at a time when member states have largely sidelined MEPs in the management of the eurozone crisis.
Schulz himself, an MEP since 1994 and previously leader of Socialist group since 2004, became significantly less outspoken following the 2009 deal for the presidency.
Some believe he holds hopes to join the European Commission in 2014, an ambition that would give him little incentive to assert himself politically.