Tajani beats Pittella to become new European Parliament president

 Seven candidates – three Italians, two Belgians, one Brit and one Romanian – participated in the first of four possible ballots

The EPP's Antonio Tajani is a familiar face in EU politics
The EPP's Antonio Tajani is a familiar face in EU politics

Italy’s Antonio Tajani is the new president of the European Parliament after four rounds of voting.

He beat his compatriot Gianna Pittella into second place by 351 votes to 282

Four other candidates were eliminated after the first three rounds, which were organised by secret ballot.

In the second round, Tajani, of the centre-right European People's Party (EPP), got 291 votes but fell short of the 346 he needed to secure the presidency. His nearest opponent, Gianni Pittella of outgoing president Martin Schulz's centre-left Socialists and Democrats (S&D) group, saw his vote fall by one to 199 in the third round. The two men go in a final head-to-head vote on Tuesday evening.

Of the 751 Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) eligible to vote, 719 did so but 29 were not valid in the third round. 

The other candidates for the presidency were Helga Stevens of the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR), who gained 66 votes in the second round and 58 in the third, UK Green MEP Jean Lambert (Greens/EFA), who won 51 votes in the second round and 53 in the third, and Romanian Laurentiu Rebega, a member of the far-right Europe of Nations and Freedom group (ENF), who took 45 votes in the second round and 44 in the third. Italian Eleonora Forenza of the Communist Refoundation Party (GUE/NGL) won 42 votes in the second round and 45 in the third.

Tajani, who has been elected as an MEP four times and is currently a vice-president of the European parliament, is poised to take the top job, following a pact between his centre-right group and the liberals, led by Brexit negotiator Guy Verhofstadt.

The parliament’s 751 MEPs are voting on Tuesday in Strasbourg to elect their new leader. The combined weight of Tajani’s centre-right European People’s Party and Verhofstadt’s liberals – the first and fourth largest groups respectively – makes it unlikely a rival candidate will prevail.

Tajani, a former spokesman for Berlusconi who went on to serve as Italy’s European commissioner for two successive mandates, is a familiar face in EU politics.

During the VW emissions scandal he was accused of not carrying out his responsibilities as EU industry commissioner. Tajani has always insisted he knew nothing about problems with car emissions tests, despite warnings from colleagues at the European commission.

The way was cleared for Tajani after Verhofstadt made clear he was pulling out of the race on Tuesday morning. The liberals agreed to support Tajani in exchange for an agreement to create a “reflection group” on the future of the EU, as well as a new committee on EU police cooperation.

The agreement also secures the position of Verhofstadt as the parliament’s Brexit representative. The European parliament must approve the final Brexit deal and MEPs from both groups are anxious to ensure they are involved from the start of negotiations, after Theresa May triggers article 50.

The deal is a boost for Verhofstadt, who last week suffered a blow after his liberal colleagues failed to back his plan to join forces with Beppe Grillo’s populist Five Star Movement.

The liberal leader described the deal as “a first important step in the construction of a pro-European coalition to reform and strengthen our union, which is absolutely necessary”.

PES reaction

In a statement issued after the election, the Party of European Socialists PES said it was very disappointed by the installation of Antonio Tajani as the new president - putting the right-wing European People's Party (EPP) in control of all three main EU institutions. This, it said, suggested that Europe would go on with austerity policies and leave behind the social agenda.

"We are especially concerned that this retrograde step has been engineered through a deal between the centre-right EPP and the liberals (ALDE), later on adding ECR group to this new coalition in a clear attempt to silence progressive voices in Parliament," the statement read. "ALDE's leader Guy Verhofstadt decided to rush to support Tajani less than a week after he tried to unite ALDE with the populist 5 Star movement of Beppe Grillo and the European Conservatives surprisingly extended ECR support to the new union of EPP and ALDE in the 11th hour."

PES president Sergei Stanishev said that the new deal cemented the conservative status quo.

"I fear that adding Tajani in its collection of top EU positions the EPP will turn its back completely on social justice, equality and civil rights, and focus even more obsessively on its austerity policy."

More in Europe

Get access to the real stories first with the digital edition