Sunday

15th Dec 2019

Who is the new EU parliament president, David Sassoli?

  • David Sassoli (l) will take over the presidency of the European Parliament from fellow Italian Antonio Tajani (Photo: European Parliament)

Members of the European Parliament have elected the centre-left Italian David Sassoli to be their president for the next two-and-a-half years.

He received 325 votes in the first round on Wednesday morning (3 July), falling just seven votes short.

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  • Sassoli was already a vice-president and therefore has experience chairing plenary sessions (Photo: European Parliament)

In the second round he received 345 votes, an absolute majority of votes cast, leaving behind conservative Czech MEP Jan Zahradil (160 votes), Green German Ska Keller (119), and far-left Spanish Sira Rego (43).

He is replacing another Italian, centre-right Antonio Tajani, who was president of the parliament for the past two-and-a-half years.

Before the voting started, Sassoli and the other candidates gave a short speech. It was full of general statements, stressing the need for a strong parliament.

"I will give my every commitment to ensure that this parliament is fully respected, by states and by institutions," he said.

The 63-year-old Sassoli mentioned the challenges Europe was facing: climate change, migration, social injustice, employment - all non-controversial topics for the mainstream political groups.

So who is Sassoli?

A former TV journalist, he has been a member of the EU parliament since 2009, elected for the Partido Democratico (PD), with 412,502 preferential votes.

His star seems to have faded somewhat, domestically. At the 2019 elections, PD came second with 22.7 percent of the votes (19 seats). Sassoli was the third-most popular PD candidate, receiving 128,572 votes.

In plenary votes, Sassoli has proven himself to be loyal to his group, the Socialists & Democrats.

According to the Votewatch website, he voted along group lines in 98 percent of the votes.

Sassoli served on the standing committee for transport and tourism, and was elected vice-president of the parliament twice, in June 2014 and January 2017.

Vice-presidents chair plenary sessions when the president is not available, so Sassoli has experience in that field.

In one of the first sessions he chaired, in June 2014, he cut off a Polish MEP for using a racist slur.

Member of powerful 'Bureau'

As one of parliament's 14 vice-president, Sassoli was a member of the Bureau, the powerful internal decision-making body of the parliament.

In an important Bureau vote in June 2018, Sassoli was on the side of greater transparency for the general expenditure allowance, a lump sum of €4,513 MEPs receive monthly with no questions asked.

He was among the six Bureau MEPs that wanted to oblige MEPs to keep receipts of what they buy with the allowance, and that any unused funds be returned to the parliament coffers.

However, Sassoli was outvoted by three S&D colleagues who teamed up with centre-right and conservative Bureau members.

Minutes of other Bureau meetings give something a flavour of the kind of president Sassoli may be.

In one such meeting the Bureau discussed determining who to give the floor in plenary debates, specifically the use of the so-called Blue Card, which can be used to interrupt an MEP for a question.

Sassoli said "that no questions should be accepted by a member belonging to the same group as the speaker, since this may be a way to give the latter extra speaking time". He also stressed that the chair should not only be strict on speaking time when it came to MEPs, but also to representatives of the European Commission and the Council of the EU.

In another Bureau meeting, Sassoli complained that an MEP had put "a flag with the logo of a football club" on display.

Parliament's carbon footprint

In several meetings, Sassoli raised the environmental footprint of the EU parliament itself, which alternates between Brussels and Strasbourg twelve times a year.

In February 2017, he argued that "with a view to making savings and improving parliament's image, that the number of the huge lorries carrying members' trunks between Brussels and Strasbourg be cut down".

Three months later, he stressed that "parliament was setting ambitious environmental standards for companies and families and should therefore set a good example itself".

In March 2019, Sassoli used a Bureau meeting to "express his dissatisfaction with the fact that the European Parliament was issuing seat projections for the European elections based on results of opinion polls", according to the minutes.

He questioned the methodology of the merging of polls, and noted that the seat projections based on political groups existing then were also "misrepresenting the actual situation", because the composition of groups would change after the elections - which they did.

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