Four Italians have been named candidates for the Presidency of the European Parliament. The last time an Italian representative – Emilio Colombo – occupied the prestigious post was in the years 1977-79. The unusual circumstance fosters idle chatter between Brussels and Strasbourg, where, during the plenary of January 17 2017, the EU Assembly will appoint the successor of German Social-Democrat Martin Schulz, who decided to leave the EP to enter German national politics. Candidates include, inter-alia, the representatives of the two most influential political groups in the Assembly: Antonio Tajani, EPP, currently deputy vice-President of the Assembly, former European Commissioner; and the president of the Alliance of Socialists & Democrats, along with the head of the United Left Eleonora Forenza (elected to Strasbourg on Tspiras’ List) and the member of the Five-Star Movement Piernicola Pedicini, representing the EFD group (Europe of Freedom and Democracy), marked by strong anti-European connotations.
It is not excluded that other groups and candidates may come forward before January 17.
For example, the leader of the Liberal & Democrats group, Belgian MEP Guy Verhofstadt, former Prime Minister in his home Country, a staunch federalist, is considered a most likely nominee. But it may also happen that those same MEPs who had proposed the candidacy might step back ahead of the plenary, owing to tactical moves yet to be defined. The election of the President of the European Parliament (which, we must admit, does not passionately involve all 508 million EU citizens) requires an absolute majority of its members in the first three ballots, followed by a final ballot between the two candidates with the highest number of votes. Is that all? Absolutely not. First of all, alliances – whether political or strategic – are needed to obtain a majority vote in Parliament. The EU Assembly is made up of 751 members, the EPP counts 216 elected MEPs, while Socialists & Democrats have 189. In order to prevail, Tajani and Pittella, according to political currents, will have to knock on the doors of the Conservatives, of the right-wing Liberal-Democrat eurosceptics, or of the Liberal-Democrats (do they hold the balance of power?), the Greens, and left-wing euro-doubters.
There is also an institutional variable, meaning that the post of the EP President is part of the “game” on the sub-division of the three major roles at the lead of the EU,
which include, in addition to the head of the EU Parliament, that of the European Council (currently held by Polish EPP MEP Donald Tusk) and of the EU Commission (whose presidency is presently held by Luxembourgian MEP Jean-Claude Juncker, member of the EPP group). Some also include the post of the High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy, now held by Italy’s centre-left MEP Federica Mogherini. However, this assignment is of less import. Considering that the election of the new president of the European Council is scheduled for May 2017, Socialists & Democrats argue against three EPP seats, on the grounds that the latter political group does not represent the large majority of European voters. There ensues that if Tusk were re-confirmed, the Parliament’s Presidency – purely on grounds of “political balance” – would need to go to the Socialist group.
The above-mentioned knots are evidently linked to political motivations and projects that extend beyond the pure and simple role distribution.
In fact it implicates the founding values of the EU integration process, along with the mutual need to set the distance between Conservatives and the Progressive alliance, the determination to mark the difference – in anti-populist terms – between the Europe of austerity and the Europe of growth; although profound differences and authentic innovative projects to this regard are still hard to see. The candidacies are on the table, while at dinners and in behind-the-scene talks diplomacy will be at work to square the circle considering that, inter alia, EU heads of government and State – convened in Brussels for today’s summit – will want to make their voices heard and gauge their influence over the choice of Schulz’ successor. As often happens Angela Merkel could present her “proposal” on mid-January’s vote.
Italy – weakened by the lack of political stability (the most consequential aspect at European level) – has all reasons to aspire to this post through one of its representatives).
It will be a question of understanding, notably by Tajani and Pittella, whether they will be able to count on national teamwork or if –albeit legitimately – party-political factions will prevail. The risk is that while four dogs strive for a bone … the fifth (Verhofstadt) will run away with it. In that case Italy would have won the first round, giving way in the final sprint.