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12th Apr 2024

'Abrasive' Schulz could lose parliamentary crown

Electing the president of the European Parliament is typically decided in a back-room carve-up between the legislature's two largest groups, but internal dynamics and personal dislikes could alter next January's vote.

Under the agreement struck between the centre-right EPP group and the Socialists (PES) in 2009, Socialist leader Martin Schulz is tipped to take over from parliamentary president Jerzy Buzek (EPP) half-way through the current five-year legislative period.

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Designed to ensure the largest groups maintain a grip on power, the informal system is unpopular with smaller groups however, who are typically excluded from the post, despite potentially having strong candidates.

But sources in parliament's corridors suggest the changeover this time may be different, with some members of the centre-right EPP group potentially reluctant to give their backing to Schulz.

The parliament's third largest group, the Liberals, are quietly assessing whether a candidate from their political family could secure the votes of enough dissatisfied centre-right deputies to come out on top in January's vote.

They are hoping to capitalise on potential resistance by members of the centre-right EPP group to give their backing to Schulz, known for his abrasive political style. Any manoeuvre by a smaller group would be helped by the fact that the presidential vote is a secret ballot, requiring a simple majority.

"At present, we haven't decided whether we will put forward a candidate ... its something we will look at in the autumn," a senior Liberal source told this website.

"It's clear however that the current EPP-PES carve-up doesn't rejoice us. We believe that the president should be elected on merit."

"It's also evident that Schulz's aura is not one that is appreciated in parliament, to put it mildly. His style is highly direct."

While smaller groups may run presidential candidates out of democratic principle, the Liberal source said "electability" would be a key factor in deciding whether parliament's third largest group decided to field a name.

A second senior Liberal contact was more cautious however, pointing to former Liberal MEP Bronislaw Geremek, whose widespread popularity was nevertheless insufficient to beat Spanish Socialist Josep Borrell in 2004.

Geremek was a former Polish foreign minister, a leading member of the anti-Communist Solidarity movement and a renowned historian. "Everyone agreed he would have been a good candidate, but he lost," said the contact.

"There are a lot of people who are unhappy with Schulz as a presidential candidate, but the number may be smaller than one thinks."

Both sources said many Socialists themselves were looking for a way to get rid of Schulz, describing his promotion to parliamentary president as a convenient way of removing him from the real running of the centre-left group.

For his part, EPP spokesman Bob Fitzhenry denied there was any chance of centre-right deputies switching their support to a Liberal candidate. "There is an agreement between the two biggest groups and the EPP will honour it," he said.

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