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Italians Tajani and Pittella to contest final round for European Parliament presidency

Italians Antonio Tajani and Gianni Pittella are in a final round vote to decide which man will become president of the European Parliament. Three rounds of voting failed to produce a winner.

EU Debatte zur Wahl des nächsten Präsidenten des Europaparlament (Getty Images/AFP/E. Dunand)

Gianni Pittella, ALDE leader Guy Verhofstadt and Antonio Tajani

In the third round of voting for a new European Parliament president, Antonio Tajani of the center-right European People's Party (EPP) increased his tally to 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 center-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'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.

"I believe in Europe, but we need to change," Tajani said in a speech ahead of the ballot. "We need a president, not a prime minister, a president who has experience, and I would like to put my 23 years of experience at your disposal."

Three rounds ahead of final vote

Under the election rules, as no candidate won an absolute majority of valid votes cast in the first three ballots held on Tuesday, the two best-scoring candidates in the third round go through to a fourth round, in which the president is elected by a simple majority. 

Each of the six candidates who went into the first round on Tuesday made a three-minute speech outlining their ideas on how to lead the chamber over the next two and half years. The vote was triggered when Martin Schulz announced his return to German politics ahead of elections due next September.

A new alliance

The 63-year-old Tajini is a close ally of Italy's former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi. His candidacy became stronger following an agreement between Manfred Weber, the German MEP who leads the EPP group, and former Belgian prime minister Guy Verhofstadt, the ALDE leader, who withdrew his own candidacy for president in favor of the new alliance.

"This coalition plan is open to all pro-European groups," Verhofstadt wrote. "It's a coalition of ideas. To change the direction the European Union is heading."

Tajini's EPP and the ALDE made the alliance on Tuesday after Martin Schulz's 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.

"Europe is in crisis," the EPP-ALDE agreement stated. "Nationalists and populists of all boards try to destroy the Union from within and from outside" the group claimed. "Therefore, the EPP and ALDE, beyond their ideological differences, have decided to work closely together and to offer a common platform as a starting point for this pro-European cooperation," it added.

If Tajani is confirmed as the new president of the European Parliament, an EPP-liberal partnership would sideline the S&D for the first time in more than ten years. The liberals would gain control of the powerful Conference of Committee Chairs and effectively relegate the status of the S&D to that of an opposition. 

jm/se (Reuters, AP, dpa)

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