Tuesday

19th Mar 2019

Schulz elected EP president again, promises to fight for more powers

  • Schulz (l) - the first to hold the EP presidency for two consecutive terms (Photo: europarl.europa.eu)

Martin Schulz was elected European Parliament president on Tuesday (1 July) becoming the first ever to hold the post for two consecutive terms, but his election was not without controversy.

The German Socialist was elected in the first round, getting 409 of the 621 valid votes cast.

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"I would like to thank you for the trust that you have invested in me. It's an extraordinary honour. I do have a particular duty and I take it very seriously," he said directly after the vote.

"There are major challenges that lie ahead," he said, citing unemployment, migration and energy issues.

Ahead of the vote, Schulz, who came under criticism for politicising the presidency in the last legislature, said he would like to "represent this house with dignity for the next two and half years".

He beat three other contenders for the job. British Conservative Sajjad Karim received 101 votes, while the leftist Pablo Iglesias from Spain and Green Austrian MEP Ulrike Lunacek both managed 51 votes each.

However Schulz's election was marred by the wheeler-dealing that went before it.

The largest groups in the EU house - the centre-right and the centre-left - have traditionally carved up the five year term between them.

This time was no different. The centre-right did not field a candidate, having promised to give their votes to Schulz in return for the centre-left repaying the favour in 2017.

The stitch-up has always attracted criticism but opposing voices this time round took particular issue with the fact that the EP post became tangled up in German domestic politics - with Berlin effectively promising the post to Schulz, who failed in his bid to become EU commission president.

Ahead of the vote, his fellow contenders urged their colleagues to consider democracy and cast their vote freely.

Karim criticised the "foregone conclusion" and said there is "nothing more sacred than the right to vote" while Lunacek addressed Schulz directly in German and reminded him that he had only recently spoken about democracy in the Austrian parliament.

Iglesias, whose anti-austerity party shook up Spain by emerging out of nowhere to scoop 8 percent of the national vote in May, focussed more on the effects of EU policy on citizens in Spain and other southern EU states. "Today's Europe is not the kind of Europe our people have fought for," he said.

Schulz's election marks the formal constitution of the eight European Parliament, where half of the MEPs are new, 63 percent are men and the gap between the oldest and youngest deputy is 65 years.

While the number of political groups has stayed the same as the previous assembly (seven ranging from the far-left to the eurosceptic right), the parliament is home to many more eurosceptic MEPs.

The new balance of power in the EP will force centrist groups to work more closely together to find majorities - something they have already indicated they will do.

One of the first major tasks of the EU Parliament will be the vote later this month on Jean-Claude Juncker, the European Commission president designate.

Fighting for more EP powers

Juncker's likely election will mark the culmination of a major power shift towards the European Parliament which had insisted that the lead candidate of the party winning the most votes in the EU election be automatically nominated for the post.

"There is no longer a hierarchy of institutions," said Schulz, who was one of the main architects of the shift.

He indicated he will continue to try and get more powers for his institution. "A parliament must fight for more rights. Always. Because more parliamentarianism is never bad. And this is my guideline."

Meanwhile the eurosceptic deputies, including the UK's Nigel Farage and France's far-right Marine Le Pen, made their presence felt from the get-go on Tuesday by turning their backs or remaining seated during a live rendition of the EU anthem, Beethoven's Ode to Joy.

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