27th Nov 2022

Liberals set to haggle over support for Pottering as parliament chair

Liberal MEPs are set to decide on 27 September whether to put up a candidate to be the new EU parliament president, with leader Graham Watson hinting he would rather get concessions from the centre-right front-runner than lose against him in next year's vote.

The liberals are the third biggest group in the 732-strong European Parliament with 89 members and their votes are not necessary to push the German Christian democrat Hans Gert-Poettering through as he can be sure of the socialists' support.

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Back in 2004, the European People's Party (EPP-ED) with 263 members made a deal with the socialists (PES, 200 members) to divide the five-year post between them.

As a result of this backroom agreement, a centre-right candidate should replace Josep Borell, the socialist president, at the beginning of 2007.

Centre-right MEPs are set to decide on their nominee on 14 November but - in Mr Poettering's words - it is an "open secret" that his own election may come along as a result of an "uncontested decision."

Mr Watson argues that it would be reasonable for liberals to announce their own candidate only if it was "what Pottering is not, so ideally a black woman from a new member state," he told journalists on Thursday (14 September).

There are no black female MEPs in the liberal group, although there are six female deputies from the new member states - one from Hungary and Slovenia and four from Lithuania.

If the liberals decide to put up their own candidate and "no one else would be willing to stand," Mr Watson said he would do so himself, but pointed out that it would be humiliating for him after a election defeat to sit with Mr Poettering at the weekly meeting of political group presidents.

In 2004, the liberals did throw in their own contender - Polish MEP Bronislaw Geremek- who got 208 votes as opposed to Mr Borell's 388 votes, but it is not expected that he would run again or that other aspirants will emerge.

Insiders suggest that a much more likely scenario is Mr Poettering pushing for a broad majority support for his candidacy - as only that would be recognized as a victory given the back-door deal with the socialists - and so will respond positively to calls from others in exchange for their votes.

For his part, Mr Watson expects the new president to promise to back parliamentary reform - to become more "financially responsible" and have a "more vibrant political institution" that would react promptly to crucial events on both the EU and in international politics.

Still, before any potential bargaining kicks off, Mr Watson concluded on Wednesday that in terms of parliamentary reform, "we would see very little if anything" from Mr Poettering.

He pointed to a case last week when the German centre-right leader refused to support Mr Borrell's idea to call for an extraordinary plenary session on CIA secret flights and prisons following the US president's public statement admitting they existed.


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