The sudden departure from the EU scene of European Parliament President, Martin Schulz, came as a big surprise to his own Socialists & Democrats (S&D) Group who had been forced into supporting him for a third term by their Group Chair, Gianni Pittella. Now S&D backbench MEPs, furious at Schulz’ cavalier treatment of his Group, have demanded that Pittella himself run for EP President.
As has been pointed out in German media for months now, Martin Schulz’ efforts to cling on to power as EP President were less motivated by a desire to see the Socialists keep one of the top EU jobs, than by his own grubby desires for self-aggrandisement. It was this ruthless self-serving approach that bound him so closely to the disastrous President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, equally driven by the craving for power at all costs.
Now that Schulz, true to form, has abandoned ship when he realised that his grand bluff was doomed to failure because the EPP Group – partners of the S&D in the “Grand Coalition” that carves up “jobs for the boys” and runs the EP show – insisted that Schulz stick to the written agreement he signed in 2014 with EPP Chair Manfred Weber, promising a bloodless hand over of power to an EPP President in January 2017.
Schulz’ departure has unleashed chaos inside the S&D Group with many MEPs feeling manipulated and humiliated by Schulz’ various manoeuvres. This has put Group Chair Gianni Pittella on the back foot as several national delegation leaders have insisted that the S&D must now run their own candidate for the EP Presidency to save face. Pittella is due to announce his “strategy for the mid-term” today at 13.30 and the word in the European Parliament is that, at this late stage, the only candidate likely to find consensus inside the S&D Group and have some name recognition beyond is Pittella himself.
Meanwhile, a similar feud has broken out inside Parliament’s fourth largest group, the Liberals and Democrats (ALDE). Their Chair, former Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt, had also signed up to support the “Grand Coalition of Pro-European Forces” after the 2014 European Elections. In return for backing Schulz for EP President and Juncker for EC President, ALDE were given an extra couple of EP Committee chairmanships.
Verhofstadt had been quietly working behind the scenes to position himself as the “compromise candidate” in the case that the S&D mantra of not leaving all the top EU jobs to the EPP had been effective. But last week one of his own MEPs, French woman Sylvie Goulard, did a solo run and declared herself a candidate for EP President. She did not have the official backing of the ALDE Group and Verhofstadt is furious at having been out-manoeuvred in this way.
According to Giles Merrit of the Friends of Europe Think Tank, all this chaos is in fact a very healthy thing for democracy at the EU level. For too long all of the top jobs have been divvied out in pre-arranged backroom deals. For the first time since 2002, and only the second time in its history, it looks like the election for President of the European Parliament will be wide open on 17 January 2017, with candidates from at least four different political groups, three of them women.