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27th Feb 2021

Pittella bid for EP chief threatens grand coalition

  • Gianni Pittella could go down in parliament's history as the man who ended the grand coalition between socialists and centre-right EPP.

The leader of the European Parliament's socialist (S&D) group, Gianni Pittella, has joined the race to become the institution's next president.

The Italian politician announced his bid at a press conference on Wednesday (30 November), saying: "My candidacy is for change."

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“We want to put an end to the blind austerity and the national selfishness that has degraded the EU. We want to put forward a vision based on left-wing ideas, principles and strategies as an alternative to those advocated by the right."

His bid for presidency could already end a long-standing pact between the socialists and centre-right EPP.

Part of their deal was to divide the presidency post among the two for half the term each.

An EPP candidate was supposed to take over the post from German social democrat Martin Schulz in January.

EPP leader Manfred Weber warned last week that a failure by the parliament's pro-EU parties to unite behind a joint nominee could end with turmoil, as it would strengthen so-called populists and make it more difficult to pass legislation.

But according to sources, the socialists have realised their cosy relationship with the EPP was damaging their political profile. The presidency post is seen as crucial to get across the group's messages.

It remains to be seen whether the parliament's progressive caucus will endorse Pittella.

More candidates coming

Greens and left-wing Gue/NGL told this website they weren't aware that he was running and would have to discuss internally before deciding if he was fit for the job.

Gue/NGL, however, has already presented a wish list.

President Gabriele Zimmer told this website she hoped to see changes to a report on the parliament's rules of procedures to stop the socialists and EPP joining together to marginalise the parliament's smaller groups.

The liberals, meanwhile, are hopeful their leader Guy Verhofstadt could turn out to be a compromise candidate. They endorsed the former prime minister of Belgium as their nominee on Tuesday, but he has yet to formally announce his bid.

The EPP will elect its candidate on 13 December.

Elisabeth Morin-Chartier, a senior EPP MEP, told journalists on Wednesday that she was personally "open-minded" about the choice of the next president, as long as it was a good one.

"Martin Schulz did a lot to promote the image of the European Parliament externally, but he neglected the internal functioning of this house," the French MEP said.

"His successor must be a skilled negotiator, a strategist who can rally MEPs across the different groups."

Helga Stevens, a Belgian MEP who is running on behalf of the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) group, said it appeared that the choice of president could be a "genuine election" for the first time in a decade.

"Instead of the usual backroom deal it seems that a number of candidates will put their names forward and, after a robust debate, MEPs will get to decide themselves who has the best ambition, character and priorities to take this parliament forward," she wrote in an opinion article for this website.

MEPs will pick their next president in secret ballots on 17 January next year.

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