“I am a candidate for the Presidency of the European Parliament”
That was a tweet yesterday from Guy Verhofstadt, the former Belgian Prime Minister who after spending over a decade in the European Parliament, has decided to run for the presidency of the European Parliament once Martin Schulz has departed. Verhofstadt, leader of the liberal ALDE group in the Parliament, was appointed its lead Brexit negotiator in September and considered an extreme Europhile and committed European federalist. It’s not clear weather this will work in his favour and there will be tough opposition from many of the MEP’s who are blatantly out to cause disruption in their own parliament at the very least.
Verhofstadt appeared in a Facebook video to declare his intention and said that “In these insecure, turbulent times, when Europe is threatened by nationalists and populists of all kinds, we need visionaries, bridge-builders and compromise-seekers alike, I want to be one of them.”
Difficult battle ahead
Verhofstadt also has tough opposition in the form of two Italians, Antonio Tajani of the European People’s party (EPP) and Gianni Pittella, from the Progressive Alliance of Socialist and Democrats (S&D). It was understood that an agreement existed whereby senior MEPs would share the presidency between the two largest parliamentary groups, meaning that the role of President should pass automatically to the EPP candidate after the departure of Schulz, who is a Social Democrat.
However, it seems that Verhofstadt has not got the support of the left in the Parliament thus meaning that it will be a tough battle for him against the likes of Tajani who has the support of most of the centre right in the Parliament which could be as high as 217 members against 189 S&D MEPs.
Funnily enough, if the role of President was a public vote, it could be viewed that he would have a decent electorate to count on. Verhofstadt has a huge social medial following, particularly in young voters, and would no doubt be popular with the large amount of closet federalist who would see his appointment as a step on the long road to a European federalist state.
The antithesis of Trumpisim
One thing is for sure, Verhofstadt would be a far more public figure than his predecessors, and his speeches in Parliament sometimes off the cuff, are a breath of fresh air against the usual passive stance that most MEP’s tend to adopt.
There is no doubt that if the European project is to progress along the lines of becoming a more open, more people driven institution, it needs the versatility of Verhofstadt more than ever. It’s almost as if we need a complete opposite to the likes of Trump and Farage with their low brow rhetoric, dumbing down of procedures and lack of respect for the institutions that they are supposed to be serving to the best of their ability.
Like him or not, you can’t ignore him and the Parliament needs more people like him than ever before.