New EU parliament president promises to ruffle feathers
By Honor Mahony
Martin Schulz has promised to live up to his reputation as something of a political bruiser in his new role as European Parliament president, with references to his "temper" and "strength of personality" featuring in post-election appraisal speeches by colleagues.
The German Socialist MEP was elected to the largely ceremonial post after one round of voting Tuesday morning (17 January), gaining 387 of the 699 votes cast.
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Although the outcome was virtually pre-ordained given the agreement between the Socialist and the centre-right EPP to divide the 5-year presidency, Schulz was clearly emotional as he told the chamber that his family, his former primary school teacher and members of his youth football team were all present to witness the vote.
Schulz, who differs enormously in style to his emollient predecessor - centre-right Pole Jerzy Buzek - promised that he was "not going to be an amenable president."
His first battle will be to secure his own presence at future euro summits, the precise make-up of which is still being debated by the drafters of the new intergovernmental treaty on fiscal discipline.
Schulz pledged to be a president for all 735 of his colleagues - making those who voted for him "proud" and those who did not "pleasantly surprised."
While most of the political speeches in reaction to the Germany deputy's election were good-natured, some sounded like veiled references to his hot temper.
European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, himself on the receiving end of past plenary tongue-lashing by Schulz, referred to his "strong personality."
Green MEP Rebecca Harms called him a "fantastic parliamentarian." She also hoped that his "special personal capacities" or "the harsher sides of you that have sometimes made it very difficult to work with you" will still feature in his relations with EU politicians despite his new office.
Veiled references were done away with by eurosceptic MEP Nigel Farage, who thrives on provocation. Farage wondered if Schulz will be a "dignified, calm" president or the "Martin Schulz [who is] snarling, angry and unable to control his temper."
For his part, President Schulz quickly showed his combative nature.
Speaking to press after his election on Monday, he took Hungarian leader Viktor Orabn to task for his controversial right-wing reforms and dubbed as "remarkable behaviour" Orban's announcement that he will speak to MEPs in plenary on Wednesday before the assembly had even accepted his request.
He also responded to a German's journalist's question about his temperament with an off-mic joke, saying he would make some "noise" during his two and a half years in the post.
Ghost of Berlusconi past
Schulz - not shy of criticising EU leaders for taking decisions behind closed doors - was challenged on the question of hypocrisy after his own election was sewn up the same way.
But he rejected the parallels, saying MEPs engaged in a "free vote".
Meanwhile, even on his big day, Schulz has not managed to shake off his political nemesis - former Italian leader Silvio Berlusconi, who catapulted the German politician to fame in 2003 by publicly comparing him to a Nazi concentration camp guard.
Asked by press on Monday if he should send Berlusconi an ironic letter of thanks for helping his career, Schulz sighed that he got the Berlusconi question every day.
"I have a limited wish to meet up with Berlusconi," he said, adding that the feeling is probably mutual.