New European Parliament president sets conciliatory tone on Brexit
The new centre-right president of the European Parliament has told the UK prime minister that Britain will remain a key partner for the EU, whilst promising to protect the interests of EU citizens during Brexit negotiations.
Theresa May phoned Antonio Tajani on 21 January to congratulate him on his new role. And the incoming president, the European Parliament said, told May that “we
have many issues that we need to tackle together, such as terrorism, migration and unemployment. We need to work in a constructive way and, in my role as president of the European Parliament, I will do my best to ensure the fairness, impartiality and transparency of the negotiations.”
An Italian politician who controversially served as a spokesman for former populist prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, Tajani was an air force officer and a journalist before going into politics to work for a pro-monarchy movement in Italy.
The European People’s Party (EPP) candidate beat his rivals in the fourth and final round of voting on 17 January, after a deal was struck between the EPP and the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe – with the ALDE candidate, Guy Verhofstadt, stepping aside. Verhofstadt, a Belgian politician, was appointed last year as chief Brexit negotiator for the European Parliament.
The deal includes a push to give Parliament a stronger say in Brexit negotiations.
Under a longstanding agreement, the “grand coalition”, the EPP and the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats have rotated the presidency. But this pact broke down after the Socialists put forward a candidate to succeed Martin Schultz, a German Social Democrat who has held the role for the Progressive Alliance since 2012. Schultz raised the profile of the European Parliament, but took an uncompromising line on Brexit – pushing for a rapid UK exit.
The pact’s collapse has raised fears that the Socialists could develop an opposition party mentality, heightening the risk that Parliament will block a negotiated Brexit deal. Its approval will be required before any settlement can come into force, though it will play a smaller role in the talks than the policy-making European Commission or the ministerial European Council, which is taking the lead on Brexit negotiations.
Tajani has promised not to push a political agenda, telling MEPs prior to being elected that he would leave it to them to decide on the direction of European policy, while he would focus on ensuring openness and transparency. “As European Parliament president, I commit myself to being neutral, serving all Europeans, focused on the things that really matter: security, migration, and jobs,” he said.
The staunchly pro-austerity president Tajani will serve for two and a half years. EPP figures also hold the EU’s other two top roles – those of European Council president Donald Tusk, and European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker.
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