A number of socialist MEPs are looking for alternatives to German Udo Bullmann’s candidature for the presidency of the group, after Gianni Pittella resigned following his election to the Italian Senate.
Pittella, the president of the Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament, stepped down on 7 March at a meeting in which two candidates expressed their wish to replace him.
German social democrat Udo Bullmann and Belgium’s Kathleen van Brempt are so far the candidates for the presidency of the group. Other MEPs have until 12 March to submit their candidature, EURACTIV has learnt.
Several sources have stressed that Bullmann has the characteristics of a leader of the group and many trust him for the new role.
However, not everyone is entirely happy with such a development. Bullmann recently proposed to vote in favour of the European Commission’s initiative to classify Tunisia as a harmful country for the EU’s financial interests (in relation with financing terrorism), while the Group then voted against.
“There was also a request from Bullmann for a free vote concerning a GUE-NGL amendment to the Resolution on human rights in Turkey […] very surprising that the acting president asked for a vote displaying the Group’s division,” sources said.
Another source told EURACTIV.com that Pittella’s bloc is still unclear about who it will back if no other candidature is submitted. They find van Brempt’s profile “weak” for the presidency.
Italian, British, Romanian, Portuguese, Cypriot, Bulgarians, as well as the majority of the Spanish and most likely the Greek delegation, will be “fully supportive” of Spanish MEP Elena Valenciano from the Partido Socialista Obrero Español (PSOE).
However, Valenciano does not enjoy the support of her own party in Madrid as she went against PSOE’s current leader Pedro Sánchez in the party’s elections.
PSOE, for its part, claims that there is no need to fill the presidency role now and just for one year before the EU election.
“I am not and will not be a candidate,” Valenciano told EURACTIV, reiterating the lack of support from her national party.
If Bullmann becomes the next S&D chief, the Parliament’s main four political groups will all be led by politicians of German origin: Manfred Weber from the European People’s Party (EPP), Gabriele Zimmer from the Confederal Group of the European United Left – Nordic Green Left and Ska Keller, co-chair of the Group of the Greens/European Free Alliance.
Bullmann’s intention to run for the presidency has sparked a discussion in the group. Sources explained that at least some of the socialists are seeking an alternative to avoid the “Germanisation” of the EU House.
In light of the heated debate on Martin Selmayr’s (German, EPP) recent appointment as secretary-general of the European Commission, another German in a top post could trigger further reactions.
“A big part of the support of my candidacy [in S&D] was due to the German overrepresentation,” Valenciano said.
But the German top posts do not stop here. Klaus Welle is the secretary-general of the European Parliament and Markus Winkler is the Directorate-General for the European Parliament Presidency.
Valenciano noted that some people feel concerned that “Germany will replicate its grand coalition in the European Parliament”, she noted.
The European Parliament’s grand coalition between the S&D and EPP, the two biggest blocs, came to an end last year following a series of electoral defeats for socialist parties across Europe due to their link with the conservatives.
Another reason was the rise of Eurosceptic political powers, embraced by voters who felt they were left with no alternative.
Considering the new grand coalition in Berlin, S&D sources explained that with Bullmann, even though he has publicly ruled out another grand coalition in the EU House, a repetition of the same scenario should not be excluded.
EURACTIV also contacted several socialist MEPs from the French delegation who all refused to make a comment. However, a French source said, “we are too weak to push for an alternative”.