As explained in previous briefs, the European Parliament (“EP”) divides in two terms the mandate of its President, as well as that of all its Committee’s Chairs and Vice-Chairs. So, this January marked renovation time. On Tuesday, 17 January 2017, the EP held its presidential election to replace current EP President Martin Schulz. It took the maximum amount of ballots to elect his replacement, since none of the candidates won the required absolute majority of valid votes cast in the first three rounds of voting. But finally after the fourth round of voting, a winner could be determined: Antonio Tajani, a Member of the centre-right European People’s Party (“EPP”).
With Tajani’s win, the EPP has now also conquered the third Presidency in an EU institution, along with Jean-Claude Juncker as President of the European Commission (“Commission”) and Donald Tusk as President of the European Council. As such, the previously installed balance of top jobs within the EU institutions with a socialist as EP President, has now vanished in thin air.
In a statement released shortly before the final round of votes, Tajani committed himself to being a neutral President, who listens to all the Groups and does not predetermine the outcome of decisions. In other words, he will not (or so he says) advance a political agenda of his own, as his predecessor did more than once, but he pledges to be a representative of whatever the EP decides.
The EPP was able to secure the win by forming an ad-hoc alliance with the liberal Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (“ALDE”) and the eurosceptic European Conservatives and Reformists Group (“ECR”), and as such marking the end of a longstanding ‘grand coalition’ with the Socialists & Democrats (“S&D”). Whether this new political agreement will or will not have an impact beyond this election and the internal life of the EP, remains to be seen.
The new situation may come as a serious change to the previous alliance between President Schulz and President Juncker: their very close personal relation reinforced the narrow collaboration between the EP and the Commission, and has been the key to moving policy initiatives forward for the last years. Indeed, such a “great coalition” between representatives of the two main European parties created an unspoken obligation for the S&D to support Juncker’s position also in challenging situations (even if it did not impose a constant agreement between the EPP and the S&D in every legislative file). Now, breakdown of this unwritten but effective coalition could have a severe impact on Juncker: Socialists and Democrats have been freed, and can be much more critical also in institutional matters. This may be crucial at a time when Juncker keeps attempting to run a more political and top-down Commission. Indeed, there is not always peace among political comrades: it also remains to be seen how this shift within the EP will affect its internal political landscape.