POWER STRUGGLE

European Parliament Divided Over Next President

epa05536793 Martin Schulz, President of the European Parliament, chairs a session in the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, 12 September 2016. The EU parliament's session on Energy and Cohesion comes ahead of the hearing of designate Commissioner Julian King by the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs. EPA/PATRICK SEEGER +++(c) dpa - Bildfunk+++
Martin Schulz may be moving on from the European Parliament.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    The European Parliament needs a strong president to lead during a time of deep division in Europe.

  • Facts

    Facts

    • In 2014, the European People’s Party and the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats agreed to alternate the parliamentary presidency during the current legislative period.
    • Martin Schulz, a center-left Social Democrat from Germany, is serving his second term as president but his turn at the helm ends in January.
    • Short on strong candidates, the European People’s Party could choose their leader, Manfred Weber, as a safe bet to ensure Mr. Schulz doesn’t try to run again.
  • Audio

    Audio

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There’s a battle brewing over who will lead the European Parliament when Martin Schulz’s second term comes to an end. The center-right European People’s Party, the largest faction in parliament, has made one thing absolutely clear – they want Mr. Schulz, a center-left Social Democrat, to step aside.

According to Handelsblatt sources, the head of the European People’s Party, Manfred Weber, told Mr. Schulz that it’s now time for a conservative to lead the European Union’s legislature.

In 2014, the European People’s Party and the center-left Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats agreed to alternate the presidency during the five-year legislative period. Mr. Schulz’s two-and-a-half-year turn at the helm ends in late January.

But Mr. Weber and his conservatives have a problem – they cannot find a strong candidate to succeed Mr. Schulz. The EPP will officially begin the selection process on Wednesday and plans to settle on a candidate by November.

Though there’s no lack of interest in the post, all of the potential candidates have flaws. Antonio Tajani, an Italian, has been pitching himself as a candidate for months. But Mr. Trajani is a controversial figure due to his close ties with disgraced former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi.

He also served as the E.U. transportation commissioner when Volkswagen was cheating emissions tests and questions have been raised about whether or not Mr. Trajani did his job thoroughly enough.

Then there’s Alain Lamassoure of France. Nobody has accused him of impropriety, but he’s not viewed as a particularly charismatic figure. Mr. Lamassoure also is no friend of Nicolas Sarkozy and cannot count on the support of the former center-right French president.

“The one perhaps isn’t serious enough and the other is boring,” a source in the EPP complained to Handelsblatt about the candidates.

There’s also buzz that Mairead McGuinness of Ireland could run, as well as Othmar Karas of Austria. But the conservative camp has reservations about them as well.

Since none of the candidates seem to measure up to Mr. Schulz’s stature, the European People’s Party could choose Mr. Weber, who like the incumbent also happens to be German. Though Mr. Weber hasn’t demonstrated any interest in the post, calls for his candidacy are growing louder.

But there are further options too. Mr. Schulz could choose to ignore the conservatives warnings and try to continue on as parliamentary president if the opposing candidates are too weak.

“With Weber that won’t happen,” a parliamentarian told Handelsblatt, “he will definitely win the vote.”

 

Ruth Berschens is Handelsblatt’s Brussels correspondent. To contact the author: berschens@handelsblatt.com

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