Italy's Antonio Tajani of the center-right European People's Party is the new president of the European Parliament, after winning the vote Tuesday night in Strasbourg. The new president was elected after four voting rounds, with support of liberals and conservatives.
Tajani is an ex-spokesman to former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. He also was a European Union Commissioner between 2008 and 2014.
Tajani said he believes his 23 years of experience at the EU can bring change to the union.
“We need a more democratic Europe. We cannot close ourselves off in our ivory tower in Brussels. We need to open up to our citizens and we need to hold a series of initiatives to open up the doors of parliament to our citizens so that we can have a constant discussion between members and the citizens of Europe.”
The other candidates all ran with similar calls for a more open and democratic Europe.
Tajani secured his win after closing a backroom deal with ALDE, the liberal bloc in parliament, before the first voting round. ALDE was promised more senior positions in exchange for its support.
A joint statement from EPP and ALDE said that nationalists and populists are trying to destroy the EU. “Therefore, the EPP and ALDE — beyond their ideological differences — have decided to work closely together and to offer a common platform as a starting point for this pro-European cooperation."
The parliament's presidential election comes at a critical time for the EU. The British will start negotiations to leave the bloc this year and parliament will vote on the final deal.
Candidates hold a debate
The election was unusually contested, and for the first time included a debate among the candidates.
The outspoken former Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt, who also is the parliament's chief Brexit negotiator, ran on behalf of ALDE. He hoped to win by forming a partnership with the Eurosceptic populist Five Star Movement from Italy, but that deal fell through. After refusing a deal offered by the social democrats group, the liberal group formed a last minute alliance with the EPP and Verhofstadt dropped out of the race.
Verhofstadt said the EPP — ALDE coalition would be open to all pro-European parties.
“This is a first important step in the construction of a pro-European coalition to reform and strengthen our union, which is absolutely necessary. With Trump, with Putin, with many other challenges Europe faces, it is key we cooperate to reform our Union,” he said.
Change in leadership
The vote ends decades of dominance in the votes for the European Parliament presidency typically by the two largest groups, the center-right bloc and the social democrats groups.
Fabian Willermain is a research fellow at the Egmont Institute of Brussels. He says the broken alliance between the two big blocs in parliament is unlikely to result in a big revolution within the EU.
“But the whole process will help boost the visibility because there was a real debate between the candidates,” Willermain said. “That was more democratic than before.”
Return to Germany
Martin Schultz, the outgoing president of the parliament and a member of the social democrats group, is returning to national politics in Germany.
The center-right EPP now holds the presidency of the three main EU institutions Parliament, Commission and Council.