The Brief – The dance of the elephants

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

The Brief is EURACTIV's evening newsletter. [European Parliament Multimedia Centre]

The election of the European Parliament president is a dirty dancing sequence in which the two largest political groups in the EU – the centre-right EPP and the centre-left S&D — unwilfully embrace.

Following the 2019 European elections, Italy’s David Sassoli was elected European Parliament’s president in the second round of a secret vote.

A day earlier, the Council had agreed a “top jobs” package with Ursula von der Leyen nominated as Commission president, outgoing Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel as president of the European Council, IMF chief Christine Lagarde as the head of the European Central Bank, and Spanish diplomat Josep Borrell as the EU’s foreign affairs chief.

Sassoli’s election was seen as an excellent way to balance the EU top jobs (there was no EPP candidate for Parliament chief). He represents the S&D, just like Borrell, while von der Leyen and Lagarde come from the ranks of the EPP, and Michel from Renew (although his party MR in Belgium is more to the right than the centre-right CD&V and CdH).

Italy’s Sassoli, largely unknown before getting the top job, accomplished his half-term successfully. At least, he is no longer an anonymous MEP. The EPP has elected Roberta Metsola, an EU lawmaker from Malta, as its candidate for president of the European Parliament at the forthcoming midterm elections in January.

One would think there would be enthusiasm in tiny Malta because a Maltese citizen has a chance to land an EU top job for the first time (in comparison, Sassoli is the seventh Italian chief of Parliament).

But it was an S&D-affiliated MEP from Malta, Alfred Sant, who said it was unacceptable to let the top job go to the EPP, also given that the Eurogroup president Paschal Donohoe also hails from the EPP.

Sant further complained that “the socialist Frans Timmermans was supposed to be senior vice-president of the European Commission uniquely in this rank, but the centre-right’s Valdis Dombrovskis was given the same rank.”

Metsola’s possible new role also comes amid tensions due to the upcoming general elections in Malta. Having an opposition politician as the European Parliament president would not be favourable to the Maltese socialists.

The socialists also pointed out that the EPP has lost ground in several EU member state governments lately, which is a fact. This is a reality that should, in their view, be reflected in the distribution of the top jobs.

The S&D also considers that faith has been broken, since the understanding in 2019 was that Manfred Weber would be the next Parliament president. However, the German EPP group leader recently announced that he would not be running for president of the EP for the coming two and half years and instead wants to lead the EPP into the future.

Metsola, who a year ago was elected as the first Maltese to become vice-president of the European Parliament, has supporters, as well as detractors.

She is a top gun on migration issues, but star journalist Jean Quatremer repeats his reproaches that she opposes abortion, birth control, and even the Istanbul Convention against violence against women.

“Metsola would be the third woman president of the EP. The first was Simone Veil, who in 1974 legalised abortion in France. We can thus measure how Europe has evolved”, he tweeted.

In Bulgaria, Metsola is remembered for having supported then-prime minister Boyko Borissov during street protests against him that lasted several months in 2020.

Happily, the amendments she sponsored in an EP resolution were defeated. The fact that the EPP continues to support Borissov when his party is ostracised in the Bulgarian parliament only erodes this political family’s influence.

It will be up to the S&D to open the door to Metsola or not, and then it’s time for the two political elephants to embrace, as they did many times in the past. If they won’t, we might have to return to the issue.


A message from Neste: To tackle climate change, we need to reduce the amount of fossil fuels we use. Fast. The question is: how?
When it comes to reducing global transport emissions, there is no silver bullet. We need to combine a range of solutions from electricity and hydrogen to e-fuels and renewable fuels. Discover how we can power sustainable mobility. Continue Reading >>


The Roundup

The new German government’s coalition treaty avoided references to nuclear energy and the EU’s green finance taxonomy in order to preserve Franco-German relations, a senior Green negotiator in Berlin told EURACTIV.

The next German government intends to speak more strongly in favour of end-to-end encryption and against the introduction of backdoors, the digital policy expert for the Social Democrats (SPD) who co-negotiated the coalition agreement’s chapter on digitalisation, told EURACTIV in an interview.

The EU’s top diplomat condemned on Monday a jail term handed out to Myanmar’s deposed leader Aung San Suu Kyi, saying it was a “politically motivated verdict”. “The European Union reiterates its urgent calls for the immediate and unconditional release of all political prisoners as well as all those arbitrarily detained since the coup,” Josep Borrell said in a statement.

The European Parliament’s economic committee (ECON) could table up to six amendments introducing significant changes to the law to regulate internet giants. The leading negotiator for the Digital Markets Act (DMA), Andreas Schwab, requested no separate amendments be tabled during the plenary vote due on 15 December. The ‘truce’ works with all major political groups, except some isolated initiatives from the far-left.

With the launch of the Farm to Fork (F2F) strategy, EU policymakers have firmly put the need to transition towards healthier and more sustainable food systems on the agenda. In achieving the ambitious goals of the F2F, it is important to focus not only on the “farm” and the “fork” ends of the equation, but also on what happens in between, at the processing level. In this regard, specialty food ingredients can play a key role in food reformulation and processing.

Several European governments are breaking EU rules that require meaningful consultations with local authorities and civil society in planning cohesion spending, stakeholders have complained, while the European Commission says everything is, mostly, in order.

The process of updating the EU’s Code of Practice on Disinformation has been extended to the end of March 2022, as 26 new potential signatories joined the revision.

Look out for…

  • EU-Kosovo Stabilisation and Association Council with High Representative Josep Borrell and Kosovo PM Albin Kurti on Tuesday.
  • Borrell delivers keynote speech at annual conference of European Defence Agency.
  • Agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski receives members of Animal Health Europe’s executive committee.
  • International Day for Abolition of Slavery event in European Parliament.

Views are the author’s.

[Edited by  Zoran Radosavljevic/Alice Taylor]

Subscribe to our newsletters

Subscribe