Schulz in danger of being shut out from EU top jobs
By Benjamin Fox
Socialist Spitzenkandidat Martin Schulz is in danger of being shut out of the top jobs in the EU institutions, just weeks after opinion polls suggested the European elections could propel him towards the European Commission presidency.
The centre-left Socialists secured a fewer than expected 191 seats in May's vote, comfortably defeated by the European People's party with 221, and who now have the first shot at building support for their candidate in the European Parliament.
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Schulz had hoped that if Jean Claude Juncker tries and fails to build a majority in Parliament, he would be given the second bite at the cherry.
But Juncker’s centre-right EPP group are unlikely to let that happen.
“If Juncker is rejected, a new EPP candidate will be proposed as it is the biggest group," Danuta Huebner, a Polish MEP and former EU commissioner, who sits on the EPP’s bureau, told EUobserver.
Schulz’s team see a key economic or foreign affairs portfolio, together with the title of vice-president of the EU executive, as the best consolation prize.
But German Chancellor Angela Merkel is also resisting the request of her Social Democrat coalition partners to have Schulz as her country’s next EU commissioner, according to German media.
"Schulz as German commissioner is out of the question, the SPD has enough ministerial posts for a 25-percent-party," Hans-Peter Freidrich, a Bavarian member of Merkel's coalition, told Der Spiegel.
In the Parliament, to which Schulz was elected at the top of the German Social Democrat party list at last month’s elections, his prospects look little better.
Schulz has been the EU assembly’s President since 2012, following an eight year stint as leader of the Socialist group, and was formally appointed as the acting leader of the Socialist MEPs at a meeting of delegation leaders last week. The move means Schulz will lead negotiations with the centre-right EPP and the Parliament’s other political groups.
But at a fractious meeting, Schulz was told by his group, led by the French, Spanish and British delegations, that he must vacate the post in early July. He is not regarded as a likely candidate to retain the Parliament presidency.
Schulz has “lost some of his power base in the group,” a Parliament source told this website.
Gianni Pitella is emerging as likely to become the next leader of the Socialists. The strong performance of Italian PM Matteo Renzi’s centre-left Democratic party, which claimed 31 seats, makes it the largest delegation in the 190-MEP strong group, ahead of the German delegation and the British Labour party.
Group sources suggest the centre-left group will not elect its new leader until the Parliament’s second Strasbourg session in mid-July.
Intensive horse-trading for the Parliament’s top jobs will dominate the coming weeks. The next Parliament president is due to be elected on 2 July when deputies gather in Strasbourg to formally take up their seats at the assembly’s post-election constitutive session.