Italian socialist politician Mercedes Bresso, who was yesterday (10 February) elected new president of the Committee of the Regions (CoR), could have a short-lived reign if she loses a political contest for leadership of the Piedmont region on 28-29 March.
Her victory was the fruit of intense political bargaining between the three major political groups in the CoR: the EPP (European People's Party; 130 members), the S&D (Socialists & Democrats; 127 members) and ALDE groups (47 members).
With 230 of the 255 members present backing the Italian, the results point to a behind-closed-doors agreement concluded in advance of yesterday's vote. The 25 abstentions stemmed from non-aligned members.
In her address to the CoR plenary, Bresso pledged to continue strengthening the regional assembly in the manner of her immediate predecessors: Belgian Christian Democrat Luc Van den Brande and French Socialist Michel Delebarre.
She highlighted the new powers awarded to the CoR by the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty (EURACTIV 10/02/10), but warned that "we should not forget that this Treaty will be what we will make of it". In particular, she stressed its potential for improved territorial cooperation and citizens' initiatives.
Bresso's March election test raises eyebrows
However, despite the new possibilities afforded to her presidency by the treaty, Bresso could not ignore the long shadow that looms over her in relation to the upcoming electoral challenge in Piedmont. "The merit of political representatives is measured through elections. Today I succeeded in the election of the presidency of the Committee of the Regions, but […] next month I will face the verdict of the polls in my region," she said.
In the March regional elections Bresso faces opposition from right-wing coalition candidate Roberto Cota, a member of the far-right Northern League, the junior party in Silvio Berlusconi's government.
Even though Berlusconi's party, the PDL (People of Liberty) voted with the rest of the EPP to elect Bresso to the CoR presidency, eyebrows were raised among some of its members, who claimed that Bresso's candidacy was a forced act considering the timing.
If Bresso is voted down in the March elections she faces two options: she can either resign or attempt to cling to power by being appointed to an administrative role.
Although the latter option would technically be at odds with CoR practices sanctioned in the 2002 Nice Treaty, the precedent set by outgoing President Luc Van den Brande points to a window of opportunity for Bresso.
Van den Brande did not stand for re-election after the end of his term as a member of the Flemish parliament in June 2009. Instead, the Belgian government – of the centre-right like Van den Brande – appointed him to an administrative role as a member of Belgium's consultative federal committee for European affairs.
This possibility nevertheless seems unlikely for Bresso, given that she, as a member of the Italian centre-left opposition, would have to rely on Silvio Berlusconi's centre-right government to secure such an administrative role. Moreover, she appeared to rule out such a move in the opening remarks of her inauguration speech.