Saturday

10th Apr 2021

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.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

  • 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.

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.

Magazine

Parliament president: red-carpet mannequin or hot seat?

The post of president of the European Parliament can be (almost) whatever the person elected makes out of it. Some stick to their ceremonial duties - while others have used the presidency for more Machiavellian power games.

Exclusive

EU parliament rejects ombudsman over expenses

The European Parliament questions whether the ombudsman had the right to criticise the institution's "margin of discretion" in deciding on publication of confidential papers about the controversial monthly €4,513 expenses lump sum for MEPs.

Catalan MEPs lose immunity, slam 'political persecution'

Catalan separatist MEPs Carles Puigdemont, Toni Comín and Clara Ponsatí lost their parliamentary immunity - a result they have hailed as a "political victory" for bringing the conflict between Catalonia and Spain closer to the heart of Europe.

News in Brief

  1. Turkey blames EU for sexist protocol fiasco
  2. France to close elite civil-service academy
  3. Covid-19 cases in UK drop 60%, study finds
  4. White House urges 'calm' after Northern Ireland riots
  5. Italy's Draghi calls Turkey's Erdoğan a 'dictator'
  6. Slovakia told to return Sputnik V amid quality row
  7. EU risks €87bn in stranded fossil fuel assets
  8. Obligatory vaccination not against human rights, European court says

MEPs chide Portugal and Council in EU prosecutor dispute

The Belgian and Bulgarian prosecutors who were appointed had also not been the experts' first choice. Belgian prosecutor Jean-Michel Verelst has challenged the council's decision at the European Court of Justice.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersDigitalisation can help us pick up the green pace
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersCOVID19 is a wake-up call in the fight against antibiotic resistance
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic Region can and should play a leading role in Europe’s digital development
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council to host EU webinars on energy, digitalisation and antibiotic resistance
  5. UNESDAEU Code of Conduct can showcase PPPs delivering healthier more sustainable society
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersWomen benefit in the digitalised labour market

Latest News

  1. The Covid bell tolls for eastern Europe's populists
  2. Four deaths after taking Russian Sputnik V vaccine
  3. Post-Brexit riots flare up in Northern Ireland
  4. Advice on AstraZeneca varies across EU, amid blood clot fears
  5. Greenland election could see halt to rare-earth mining
  6. After 50 years, where do Roma rights stand now?
  7. Why Iran desperately wants a new nuclear deal
  8. Does new EU-ACP deal really 'decolonise' aid?

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us