Thursday

21st Feb 2019

Verhoftstadt elected as new Liberal leader

Former Belgian prime minister, Guy Verhoftstadt, has been unanimously elected as the new leader of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE), the third largest political party within the European parliament.

Mr Verhoftstadt, recently elected as an MEP in European elections earlier this month, will take over from Graham Watson, the UK MEP who has been party leader for the last seven years and is now hoping to become president of the European Parliament.

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  • Former Belgian prime minister, Guy Verhoftstadt, was elected as the new liberal leader on Tuesday (Photo: European Commission)

The party won 84 seats in the European elections, with the MEPs expected to vote on Tuesday (30 June) between Mr Verhoftstadt and UK MEP Diana Wallis.

However Ms Wallis - an MEP since 1999 – dropped out at the last minute following internal party negotiations.

In recent months Mr Verhoftstadt has been a vocal critic of the European commission over its handling of the economic downturn.

"I think we will live in difficult times in Europe over the next few years, difficult and important times," he said before his election in a packed room in the European parliament.

"I think it is the task of the European parliament to push the council [representing member states] and the commission to come forward with more credible solutions to the crisis," he added.

Mr Verhoftstadt's name has also been mentioned as a possible challenger to centre-right Jose Manuel Barroso's ambitions to take on a second term as commission president, with the co-leader of the Greens party - Daniel Cohn-Bendit - coming out in his support.

However a 2004 bid by Mr Verhoftstadt to become commission president was scuppered by the UK government who considered the Belgian politician to be too federalist in his beliefs.

Mr Verhoftstadt said he would quit his current post as city councillor of Ghent as soon as next week so that he can concentrate his energy on working for the party.

Last week the centre-right European Peoples' Party re-elected French MEP Joseph Daul as their party leader in the parliament, while the Socialists re-elected German MEP Martin Schulz as their leader.

The Greens also re-elected outgoing co-chair French MEP Daniel Cohn-Bendit, with Germany's Rebecca Harms set to replace Monica Frassoni as the other co-chair after the Italian failed to be re-elected in June.

EU Parliament demands Saudi lobby transparency

A resolution demanding Saudi Arabia release prisoners and stop gender-based violence was passed by over 500 MEPs on Thursday in Strasbourg. They also demanded greater transparency over Brussels-based lobbying for the Saudis, following an EUobserver exclusive.

Saudis paying College of Europe to lobby MEPs

The Bruges-based College of Europe is setting up private meetings with the EU institutions for seven ambassadors plus seven high-level officials from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

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