The Brief – Pittella recrosses the Rubicon

The Brief is EURACTIV's evening newsletter.

Few could begrudge Gianni Pittella, leader of the Socialist and Democrat group in the European Parliament, his decision to leave the EU capital to stand for the Italian Senate. Trading in grey Brussels days for the warmth of Campania is an understandable decision to make but is it a politically shrewd one?

Most opinion polls have Pittella’s party, the Partido Democratico-led governing coalition, ten points behind Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia and Lega Nord coalition, and tied with Beppe Grillo’s Five Star Movement.

If Pittella has been promised a senior ministerial job by Party Secretary and former PM Matteo Renzi, meanwhile, he certainly wasn’t about to tell journalists.

That, perhaps, explains why Pittella was killed with kindness by the Italian press corps at his ‘farewell’ press conference today. Most hacks appeared to be slightly bemused by his decision.

Had he stayed in Brussels, Pittella could have expected to succeed fellow countryman Antonio Tajani, who has himself been earmarked by Berlusconi to be the country’s next prime minister, as president of the Parliament.

Pittella insists that his imminent departure is a ‘farewell but not a goodbye’.

“It was not an easy choice… I want to lend a hand to defeat the anti-European forces on the right,” he told reporters.

He also vowed to “promote the European cause in the Italian parliament”, if elected.

While Pittella heads home to fight the good European fight and “inject pro-Europeanism into the campaign”, his deputy Udo Bullman will take over the reins of the Parliament’s second largest group until the poll on 4 March.

Bullman and Slovenian deputy Tanja Fajon are then likely to fight out a formal leadership contest, assuming Pitella is elected.

Germany already boasts the Parliament’s top civil servant, Secretary General Klaus Welle, while Manfred Weber leads the European People’s Party faction.

Having Bullman, an economics specialist who is well liked and respected by his peers, in charge of the Socialists would give them the full set.

“I’ve stuck it out for 19 years,” said Pittella. Whether that was subtle confirmation that enduring 19 bleak mid-winters in Brussels was quite enough for him remains to be seen…

The Roundup

Sustainable finance experts presented the Commission with new recommendations, which could boost energy policy with fresh investment. A new tool to help countries fight energy poverty is also up and running.

Raising taxes on alcohol will only penalise people who drink responsibly, according to the head of Pernod Ricard. Italy made a formal complaint to the EU’s court about the relocation of the bloc’s medicines agency to Amsterdam. The Dutch replied that relocation procedure is on schedule.

Controversial pipeline Nord Stream 2 was granted a construction permit for the German part of its route but a bigger challenge is posed by Denmark’s opposition. Check out our Special Report on Europe’s forests and climate change.

MEPs on the justice committee voted in favour of launching Article 7 proceedings against Poland. A full sitting of the plenary will now be given a chance to adopt the ‘nuclear option’.

A new code of conduct for Commissioners entered into force today. Both the Ombudsman and Corporate Europe Observatory said more could have been done.

Superstar actor and UN Special Envoy Angelina Jolie visited NATO HQ to talk about the Rohingya crisis and sexual violence in conflict zones. The UN will keep up an arms embargo on the Central African Republic and will add hate speech sanctions.

It seems like a long time ago that “tragic figure” David Cameron was in charge across the Channel but Brexit looks set to be a big part of his legacy. British MPs found themselves spied on by an unlikely operative today: a European robin found its way into the chamber.

Look out for…

The Commission presents its update of the drinking water directive. Tonight is the first ‘super blue blood moon’ since 1866. If Brussels’ weather lets us down, you can watch it live here.

Views are the author’s

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