31st Mar 2020

French farmer to lead European centre-right group

Centre-right MEPs from the biggest political group in the European Parliament have elected a new chairman - Joseph Daul from the UMP party of French president Jacques Chirac.

Mr Daul (59) received the most votes in a secret vote held on Tuesday (9 January) by members of the 277-strong group, beating three other candidates.

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Unlike the previous chairman, Hans-Gert Poettering, who has been an MEP ever since the first popular vote to the EU assembly in 1979, Mr Daul has been a European deputy since 1999.

He represents old European traditions - he does not speak English but speaks both French and German, as he comes from the Alsace region where his relatives had to change their citizenship several times throughout their history, as he pointed out in Tuesday's speech to indicate his strong feelings for Europe.

Until now and during the last term of parliament, he chaired the agriculture committee.

Asked about the EU's farm policy during questioning before the vote, Mr Daul - himself a farmer with 9 hectares of family farm land - said that the policy needs to be reformed despite his own country's opposition to it.

Other candidates for the chair included two MEPs from the economic affairs committee - Sweden's Gunnar Hokmar and Austria's Othmar Karas, as well as Italy's Antonio Tajani from the foreign affairs committee.

While the race between Mr Daul and Mr Hokmar was quite tight in all three rounds, some deputies suggested that the French candidate's victory was secured due to "some kind of a deal between the French and Germans."

No surprises expected at Parliament's helm

The internal centre-right group vote had been re-scheduled so that the new chairman could greet the German presidency in Berlin on Thursday (11 January).

German chancellor Angela Merkel features among the prominent members of the pan-European People's Party.

Fellow German Hans-Gert Poettering - the ex-chairman of the EPP-ED - has been promoting his bid to become the new European Parliament president by stressing that his close links to the German government could help boost the role of the assembly.

Berlin is planning to draw up a special declaration to mark the EU's 50th birthday and also revive the European constitution - put on ice since its rejection by French and Dutch voters in 2005 - with MEPs keen to play an active part in both initiatives.

Mr Poettering is considered a safe bet for next week's election as he is also supported by the second biggest group in the parliament, the socialists.

The socialists agreed to back the centre-right candidate after a 2004 deal which saw conservative MEPs support their socialist candidate Josep Borrell, due to step down as president next week.

Meanwhile, three other candidates for the presidency have joined the race mainly in a bid to protest against sweetheart deals between the strongest groups.

The Green's co-chairman Monica Frassoni, the leftist GUE/NGE group chief Francis Wurtz and Danish eurosceptic Jens-Peter Bonde, running on behalf of a cross-party "Fair chair" campaign, have all thrown their hats into the ring.

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