European Parliament members hold crunch vote for leader

The European Union flag flies in front of the Louise Weiss Building, in Strasbourg, France, on July 2, 2019.
The European Union flag flies in front of the Louise Weiss Building, in Strasbourg, France, on July 2, 2019.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

STRASBOURG, FRANCE (AFP) - The race to fill top EU jobs moves to European Parliament on Wednesday (July 3) as Members of European Parliament (MEPs) elected in May vote to choose a new president.

The vote, set for 9am local time comes a day after the painful agreement reached by the EU's 28 national leaders in Brussels on nominating a president of the European commission and other key posts.

The new MEPs, who took office on Tuesday during a brief inaugural session, will vote from Wednesday morning by secret ballot to elect the successor to Mr Antonio Tajani, a conservative from Italy.

The 751-seat parliament - based in Strasbourg, France - is more fragmented than ever after a vote in May that saw solid gains by the liberals and Greens as well as the far right and eurosceptics.

The two-and-a-half year presidency term is one of the top jobs that the major European political families are seeking to dole out over the next weeks, even if it is less coveted than that of president of the Commission or European Central Bank.

The EU leaders on Tuesday filled out most of the puzzle by nominating Ms Ursula von der Leyen as commission chief and Ms Christine Lagarde to head the European Central Bank, though their appointments still need confirmation.

Left unknown is whether the parliament will follow their national leaders' suggestion that the chamber's presidency should be shared for the next five years by the Socialists and Tajani's EPP.

'DISAPPOINTING'

Germany's Manfred Weber, head of the EPP group, took note of the outcome of the Brussels summit by renouncing to run as parliament head, after having already thrown in the towel in the race for the Commission's presidency.

 
 
 
 

"It is normal, that after two and a half years of an EPP president, now it is up to the Socialists to present a candidate," Mr Weber told a press briefing in Strasbourg.

"We are ready to check with the Socialists for a candidate and to give our support," he said.

But the Social Democratic group in the European Parliament, second only to the EPP in terms of number of members, put forward Italian MEP David Sassoli, after criticising the agreement reached between the 28, which it described as "deeply disappointing".

They had wanted the commission head spot to land with their leading candidate, the Dutchman Frans Timmermans.

Mr Sassoli will be competing with German Green MEP Ska Keller.

"We need a dynamic for political change in Europe and this is not possible with the package" of appointments decided on Tuesday in Brussels, Mr Keller said.

To be elected on Wednesday, the new president will have to obtain an absolute majority of votes cast by secret ballot.

If this is not achieved after three rounds, a simple majority would be sufficient in a fourth round, in which only the two leading candidates in the third would participate.

BREXIT AND CATALONIA

On Tuesday, the opening of the Parliament's session was marked by the return of Mr Nigel Farage, a veteran of the EU chamber since 1999, whose Brexit Party MEPs turned their backs when asked to stand for the EU anthem - Beethoven's Ode to Joy - at the start of the session.

As Brexit has still not taken place, there are again 73 British MEPs, who will be able to sit temporarily until the divorce takes place. The new deadline has been set for October 31.

It also saw the demonstration of some 10,000 Catalans who came to Strasbourg to support three secessionists elected at the end of May, but prevented from sitting by Spanish authorities.