Guy Verhoftstadt officially entered the race to succeed Martin Schulz as president of the European Parliament today (6 January), a decision which could see him step down as the chief MEP on Brexit.
Verhofstadt is the leader of the ALDE liberal group in the Parliament and the institution’s lead Brexit negotiator.
He has previously hinted he would step down as Brexit boss, if he ran and was elected as Parliament President. Verhofstadt has told his political allies that he believes one man could not do both jobs.
If successful on 17 January, the committed federalist will retain some influence over the final outcome of the Brexit negotiations. The European Parliament will have to approve the final terms of the EU-UK divorce.
Verhofstadt, a former prime minister of Belgium, is third favourite to take the post. He is behind the candidates of the two largest groups, Antonio Tajani (European People’s Party) and Gianni Pittella (Socialists & Democrats).
The combustible Fleming, who unsuccessfully ran for Commission President in the 2014 Spitzenkandidat process, tried and failed to secure support from the S&D, according to some reports.
He argued unsuccessfully (at least for now) that, “The left needs to rally behind somebody who can actually win, someone who is able to bridge the gap between right and left.”
— ALDE Group (@ALDEgroup) January 6, 2017
Pittella in Verhofstadt’s sights
European Parliament sources denied that Verhofstadt had reached out to Pittella.
Instead, they said Verhofstadt was targeting the Italian socialist for his part in the Grand Coalition between EPP and S&D.
Pittella has claimed that the Grand Coalition, which saw the two biggest Parliament groups precook agreement on EU law, is over and is bad for democracy.
euractiv.com understands that Verhofstadt plans to drag his rival over the coals for numerous examples of Pittella’s complicity in backroom stitch-ups on EU legislation.
The election of the European Parliament President could have ramifications for the other EU institutions. If Tajani were to win all three presidents of the Parliament, Commission and Council would be EPP members.
With Council President Donald Tusk’s term up for renewal this year, that situation could see the prospects of keeping the job come under threat.
Verhofstadt is famed for his incendiary speeches in the European Parliament. He recently claimed there was an international conspiracy to destroy the European Union.
He also threatened to open up separate Brexit negotiations with the British after feeling that the Parliament was being sidelined from the talks by the European Commission and Council.
He warned the Council it was better to have MEPs inside the tent “pissing out” rather than outside the tent pissing in.