Wednesday

24th Apr 2019

Liberals' Verhofstadt launches EU parliament bid

  • Verhofstadt (r), dropped hints that he wanted Schulz's (c) job as soon as Schulz said he would go (Photo: European Parliament)

Belgian Liberal MEP Guy Verhofstadt has joined the race for the European Parliament presidency.

"I want to dedicate all my passion and all my skills to Europe and to its parliament," he said in a video posted on social networks on Friday (6 January).

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

He is the seventh candidate to throw his hat into the ring, with voting to take place on 17 January after the incumbent, Martin Schulz, decided to return to national politics in Germany.

Verhofstadt, who was recently named as the EU parliament’s Brexit coordinator, said that Europe needed "visionaries, bridge builders and compromise-seekers," and that he wanted “to be one of them".

The 63-year old politician said that his nine-year term as prime minister of Belgium in the early 2000's "taught [him] that compromise is not a dirty word. Not a necessary evil, but a way to be creative".

The two frontrunners - Antonio Tajani from the centre-right EPP group, and Gianni Pittella, for the centre-left S&D - represent the two largest political powers.

Other candidates include Helga Stevens for the conservative ECR group, Eleonora Forenza for the radical left GUE/NGL, and Jean Lambert for the Greens.

Blocking Tajani

Tajani and Pittella both lack an absolute majority, which is needed to win in the first three rounds of voting.

In the fourth round, a plurality of votes is enough to be elected.

Verhofstadt, the leader of the Liberal Alde group, the fourth largest in the house, with 68 MEPs, believes he could win in the fourth round.

His bid did not come as a surprise, after he dropped hints that he wanted the job as soon as Schulz announced his departure.

Verhoftsadt is positioning himself as the candidate who will "break with the uninspired grand coalition" between the EPP and the S&D, which traditionally share the presidency and align positions on most EU laws.

A source in the Alde group told EUobserver that Verhofstadt could win if the S&D’s Pittella fell by the wayside and if other MEPs swung to Alde in order to block the EPP’s Tajani, who has a chequered profile.

'Too provocative'

Tajani used to be Italy’s EU commissioner, in the era of Silvio Berlusconi, a former Italian prime minister who was convicted of fraud.

Tajani has in the past faced flak for his conservative views on women’s rights.

The 63-year old politician, who used to hold the commission’s transport and industry portfolio, has also faced questions on his role in the Dieselgate scandal.

The Alde source said that Verhofstadt was betting on a free outcome from a secret ballot instead of “backroom deals” with other groups.

Philippe Lamberts, a Belgian politician who co-chairs the Green group, said there would be some coordination, however.

He told EUobserver that "all the democratic groups outside the grand coalition [EPP and S&D],“ would talk next week to try agree a common candidate for the final rounds of voting.

Verhofstadt, a federalist with liberal economic views, might not appeal to all MEPs in the Green group, the far-left GUE-NGL group, or in the anti-federalist ECR.

Verhofstadt was "too federalist and too provocative" to be elected, one Liberal MEP, who spoke anonymously, told EUobserver last month. "Many people like him, but many people hate him”, the MEP added.

Despite Verhofstadt’s claim to offer a break from the grand coalition, many MEPs also see him as being part of it because of Alde’s past deals with the EPP and S&D.

'No European superstate'

Verhofstadt was a “liberal Schulz" one Green MEP, who also spoke anonymously, said. "He wants to boost his own profile but he's not ready to fight with the [European] Commission and the [EU] Council,” the EU deputy added.

In order to dispel criticism, Verhofstadt sent a manifesto to MEPs on Friday, in which he said that "the Union of the future will not be a European superstate".

"It is in fact the opposite,” he said. "A more effective and more integrated Union will better protect our cherished European diversity: in languages, in cultures, in traditions, in ways of life. The parliament must be at the forefront of this."

He said that parliament "must be able to control the executive [the commission] in a real way and on a permanent basis”.

He said the EU assembly "must acquire full budgetary oversight" and upgrade its inquiry powers.

He also said that he wanted to reform parliament governance, with more transparency and fairer gender balance.

EUobserved

Schulz: the end of a one-man parliament

Martin Schulz has been widely credited for raising the profile of the European Parliament during his terms at its helm. But he didn't do much to raise transparency and political accountability of the EU institutions.

Agenda

Malta presidency in full swing THIS WEEK

EU commissioners meet in Malta. Meanwhile, Cyprus talks, the European Parliament presidential race, and commissioner Oettinger's hearing are dominating the EU agenda.

EU want Facebook pan-EU advert fix for May elections

EU institutions want Facebook to relax its rules, to allow pan-European political groups to carry out EU-wide campaigns. Facebook has yet to implement the demands - posing questions on the extent to which Europe relies on the US tech firm.

News in Brief

  1. Putin offers Russian citizenship to Ukraine regions
  2. Romania adopts new rules weakening corruption fight
  3. Sturgeon pledges 2nd Scottish independence referendum
  4. Political deadlock looms at Sunday's Spanish election
  5. Le Pen in Copenhagen for talks with new key ally
  6. Trump to meet May and Macron on Europe visit in June
  7. Johnson's sister to run in EU elections on new list
  8. Weber pledges to 'block' Nord Stream 2 as president

Magazine

The changing of the guards in the EU in 2019

The four most powerful EU institutions - Commission, Parliament, Council and Central Bank will all have new leaders in the coming ten months. Here is an overview.

Magazine

Explained: What is the European Parliament?

While domestic political parties often use the European Parliament as a dumping ground for unwanted politicians - and a majority of citizens don't bother to vote - the parliament, over the years, has become a dominant force in the EU.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  2. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  3. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  4. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  5. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  9. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  10. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  12. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan

Latest News

  1. Details of EU Brexit talks with Blair and Soros kept secret
  2. Weber vows to block Nord Stream 2 amid 'sue' threat
  3. 'Next Juncker' must fix EU's corporate power problem
  4. EU want Facebook pan-EU advert fix for May elections
  5. Ukraine comic-president invited to EU capitals
  6. Trump's Israel plan to 'test' EU resolve
  7. Romania drafts EU code on NGO migrant rescues
  8. Bulgaria, Hungary, and Malta shamed on press unfreedom

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  3. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID
  6. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership
  7. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson
  8. Platform for Peace and JusticeTurkey suffering from the lack of the rule of law
  9. UNESDASoft Drinks Europe welcomes Tim Brett as its new president
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers take the lead in combatting climate change
  11. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament takes incoherent steps on climate in future EU investments
  12. International Partnership For Human RightsKyrgyz authorities have to immediately release human rights defender Azimjon Askarov

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us