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Italian Tajani wins run-off vote for presidency of European Parliament

Long-time Italian commissioner to the EU Antonio Tajani has won the run-off vote to become the new president of the European Parliament. He beat Gianni Pittella in a final run-off vote.

The political leadership of the European Parliament changed on Tuesday as Antonio Tajani was elected its president beating the center-left Socialists and Democrats' (S&D) candidate Gianni Pittella by 351 votes to 282. There were 633 valid votes out of the total 713 cast in the final round, with 80 abstentions.

Ahead of the run-off, in the third round ballot, Tajani won 291 votes compared to 199 for Pittella. Flemish nationalist Helga Stevens from the European Conservatives and Reformers was third with 58 and her group then gave its backing to Tajani.

Antonio Tajani had been elected as a Member of the European Parliament (MEP) four times. Ahead of the vote he was one of 14 vice-presidents of the European Parliament.

His victory followed a pact which was made between his center-right European People's Party (EPP) group and the liberals, led by Brexit negotiator and former Belgian premier Guy Verhofstadt. The European parliament is to approve the final Brexit deal and MEPs from both groups want to make sure that from the start of negotiations they are involved.

Christian democrat conservatives and liberals

Tajani's EPP group is made up of Christian democratic and liberal-conservative politicians including European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, European Council President Donald Tusk and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Tajani's victory gives the EPP control of all three presidencies of the major EU political institutions. There have been some calls for either Juncker or Tusk to make way for a leftist.

The EU’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, and the head of the eurogroup, Jeroen Dijsselbloem, represent the center-left.

The 63-year-old Tajani is a former spokesman for "Forza Italia" political leader and ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi who went on to serve as Italy’s European commissioner for two successive mandates, first for transport and then for industry. His candidacy became stronger following an agreement between Manfred Weber, the German MEP who leads the EPP group and Verhofstadt, the ALDE leader, who withdrew his own candidacy for president in favor of the new alliance.

The alliance came after retiring parliamentary president Martin Schulz's center-left S&D group broke a grand coalition with the EPP and the liberals. The S&D had previously agreed to support an EPP candidate for the presidency but instead put forward its own Italian candidate, Gianni Pittella.

Europäisches Parlament in Straßburg - Abschiedsrede Präsident Martin Schulz (Getty Images/AFP/F. Florin)

Martin Schulz was president of the European Parliament from 2012 until 2017.

The liberal support for Tajani was based on a commitment to set up a group to reflect on the future of the EU, as well as a new committee on EU police cooperation.

The UK Conservative European Conservatives and Reformists is the third largest group in the parliament and supported Belgian MEP Helga Stevens in the first three rounds of voting for the new president. 

VW 'Dieselgate'

During the VW emissions scandal Tajani was accused of not carrying out his responsibilities as EU industry commissioner. He has always insisted he knew nothing about problems with car emissions tests. "I was never informed or given any evidence about the use of defeat devices," he told the European Parliament Dieselgate inquiry last year.

According to the report in German business journal "WirtschaftsWoche," "in July 2012, then Industry Commissioner Tajani (EPP) was allegedly informed by the manager of an autoparts supplier about the manipulation of emissions tests and the existence of so-called defeat devices."

jm/se (Reuters, dpa)