A center-right Italian lawmaker has been tapped as the favored candidate for the presidency. But the socialists have upended a decade-long tradition of rotating leadership in an attempt to fight the "monopoly" on power.
Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) on Tuesday began the process of formally electing the transnational body's new president after Martin Schulz stepped down to pursue politics in Germany. Two Italian politicians are the frontrunners.
Center-right lawmaker Antonio Tajani, a former European commissioner and ex-spokesman for Italy's ex-Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, has vowed to make Europe stronger by strengthening parliament's ability to tackle citizens' concerns.
"We politicians have to find concrete answers to citizens' problems, preserving freedom and democracy in Europe," Tajani said ahead of the vote.
Shortly before voting began, the European liberal party alliance ALDE withdrew their candidate Guy Verhofstadt. The former Belgian prime minister is a leading federalist figure and has lent his support to Tajani to strengthen the grip of pro-EU parties on the legislature.
Tajani is the candidate of the center-right European People's Party, the largest grouping in the European Parliament. His staunchest opponent is now Gianni Pittella, leader of the Progessive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats.
Fighting the 'monopoly'
Earlier this month, Pittella called for more inclusion and transparency at the parliamentary level, citing concerns that the legislature has lost touch with European citizens.
"Brexit, the migration crisis, the economic crisis, the terrorist threat, wars on our doorstep have dramatically undermined the foundations of our Europe," Pittella said.
"We must not be afraid of these changes," he added.
The election process has witnessed divisions arise between the center-right grouping and socialists after the latter upended a decade-long tradition of rotating leadership. The former president hailed from the socialist grouping.
Pittella said he would fight for key changes in top positions if he fails to win, given that the European Commission president and European Council president both come from the European People's Party.
"We cannot accept a 'monopoly' of the EU's top jobs," he said.
MEPs have up to four rounds of voting in which they cast secret ballots for their preferred candidates, which all take place on Tuesday.
In the first round, Tajani received 274 votes to Pittella's 183. However. no single candidate reached the 342-vote majority needed to claim victory. A second round will be held, with results expected at 15:00 local time (1400 UTC).
ls/rt (Reuters, AFP)