22nd Oct 2016

EP top job battle risks getting ugly

The two biggest European Parliament (EP) political groups will present their candidates for the next president in December, amid rifts over who will get the top post when, and if, the incumbent, Martin Schulz, steps down.

The centre-left S&D, Schulz's group, will present their candidate on 8 December, while the centre-right EPP will do the same on 14 December.

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The race is already stirring tension amid rumour that Schulz intends to stay on despite a power-sharing deal between the two groups.

In 2014 they signed an agreement that Schulz would cede his post to an EPP successor.

But that deal now appears to be unraveling, with the centre-left accusing the EPP of not holding up its terms and of vying to lead all three EU institutions. The EPP already has Donald Tusk in the European Council, representing member states, and Jean-Claude Juncker at the European Commission.

Italian MEP Gianni Pittella, who leads the socialist group, told reporters in Strasbourg, that Schulz needs to remain parliament president in January.

"We are in favour of Martin Schulz because he safeguards an important role for the parliament at a key moment to make sure that the European Parliament role is not undermined," he said.

Pittella has also accused the EPP of reneging on the deal after Tusk landed the top job at the European Council.

"It was agreed that the presidency of the European Council would go to the Socialist forces. This not being the case, andin the event that the current president of the European Parliament should not be reconfirmed, the imbalance would be even more apparent," he said in a 13-page strategy paper that outlines the group's broad policy direction, published on the Politico website.

Two parliament sources told this website that Pittella is also afraid of losing his own job if Schulz does not carry on as president. Schulz was previously the S&D group leader and could possibly take up the post again.

Another source said the 2014 agreement didn't include giving the socialists the presidency of the European Council as stated by Pittella.

Juncker backs Schulz

Juncker has also endorsed Schulz for a third term.

Despite vying for the EU commission presidency post in 2014, the two men are close and often dine together, along with other group leaders and with commission vice president Frans Timmermans.

Meanwhile, other moves are being made to limit Schulz's grip on the 751-seat assembly.

The British conservative MEP leader Ashley Fox is pushing to limit the European parliament president to two terms.

Last week in the parliament's constitutional affairs committee, he introduced an amendment that would block Schulz from running a third 2.5-year term. Some 50 MEPs from across political groups, excluding the socialists and the Europe of Nations and Freedom party, signed it.

It will likely go to a plenary vote in December, around the same time candidates are being officially selected.

The candidates

A handful of possible candidates from the centre-right is already emerging.

Among them is French MEP Alain Lamassoure, Irish MEP Mairead McGuinness, and former EU commissioner Antonio Tajani. None of them figure EPP leader Manfred Weber who, at the age of 44, is seen as too young and whose political trajectory may instead take him to Germany.

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