, Brussels, Belgium, Jan 10 – The centre-right European People’s Party (EPP) on Tuesday vowed to battle a growing threat from eurosceptics as it pushed its bid to take over the leadership of the European Parliament.
The EPP in December nominated Italian Antonio Tajani, a former EU industry commissioner, to replace German Socialist Martin Schulz who won a second 2-1/2 year term as assembly president under an agreement with the conservatives in 2014.
EPP head Manfred Weber told a press conference the agreement had been broken, with the Socialists and the Liberals, who also signed the 2014 accord, ready to do deals “behind closed door” with eurosceptic and populist groups to win next week’s election for parliament president.
“The EPP is one of the few groups in the European Parliament that is firmly resolved to reject any cooperation with eurosceptic groups,” Weber said.
“We will continue to fight against such groups,” he said, insisting that Tajani was the best person for the job as a committed pro-European who would serve parliament as a whole, not as a creature of his party.
As the biggest party in parliament, the EPP could reasonably expect to win the vote but with party stalwarts Donald Tusk and Jean-Claude Juncker already at the helm of the European Council and the European Commission, the Socialists and Liberals balked at giving it the last remaining EU top job.
Liberal group head Guy Verhofstadt suffered a body blow Monday to his hopes to become president — just days after announcing his candidacy — when his party rejected a plan to join forces with Italy’s biggest opposition party, the populist Five Star Movement.
Weber said Verhofstadt’s ouverture to Five Star “has completely changed the picture … the EPP has been a reliable partner and we simply want others to do the same.”
He charged Socialist candidate Gianni Pittella with talking to parties on the left, including Communists, stressing that the EPP had worked very effectively with Schulz during his term.
“We won’t be accepting any votes from radical parties or anti-European forces,” he said.
Asked if the EPP might have to change tack, or even its candidate in order to win the vote, Weber said: “Absolutely not.”
The European Parliament is the only directly-elected EU body and plays a key role in review and approval of legislation.
The EPP, the Socialists and Liberals combined hold an overwhelming majority of 474 out of the 751 seats.