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Antonio Tajani – a pragmatic President?

‘It is not for the European Parliament president to push a political agenda’.

As political statements go, it is not the most bold. However it does give an indication of the type of character the new president of the European Parliament, Antonio Tajani, is – an understated pragmatist.

Following unsuccessful campaigns to enter the Italian Chamber of Deputies and to be Mayor of Rome Tajani was a founder of the Forza Italia party and was a spokesperson for Silvio Berlusconi for a year. Tajani remained a trusted advisor to Berlusconi. Tajani has been involved in European Politics since 1994. He was MEP for Central Italy from 1994 to 2008 and has represented this district again since 2014. In the interim period he was European Commissioner for transport from 2008 to 2010 and European Commissioner for industry and entrepreneurship from 2010 to 2014.

For the past two Parliamentary cycles, a grand coalition power sharing agreement between the centre right EPP and the centre left S&D group has been in place. Events in recent weeks, beginning with the EPP refusing to renew Martin Schultz’s mandate as President and culminating in Tajani’s election has marked the end of this. Now this era is over, Tajani faces a challenge in building a new coalition in order to pass legislation. His election was made possible by the EPP signing a ‘pro – European’ agreement with the ALDE group and late support from the ECR group, whose leader is the Conservative MEP Syed Kamall.

Going forward, Tajani is somewhat constrained by a declaration signed late last year by Schulz, Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and Slovakia’s Prime Minister Robert Fico, whose country held the rotating presidency of the Council at the time. The declaration laid out ‘legislative priorities’, identifying the political deals most needed between the EU’s three main institutions.

When it comes to Brexit, he is unlikely to be as vocal a player as his predecessor, Schultz. Tajani himself admitted as much when he stated that he would be a ‘speaker, not a prime minister for the Parliament’.

Despite this, Tajani has been calling for a treaty change in order to ‘transform our [European] Union, which has become less political and more bureaucratic, in a truly political union that plays a leading role for growth and development.’ It will be interesting to see if these views impact the way he interacts with the negotiation process.

With his EPP group also counting Jean Claude Juncker and Donald Tusk as members, the group has total control of Europe’s institutions and thus he is not under as much pressure to have his political groups points heard as Schultz was. It is also worth noting that, given it was a deal with ALDE that placed Tajani in this position, their leader Guy Verhofstadt looks to have solidified his place as Brexit negotiator for the Parliament. With ALDE also securing the position of chair of the Conference of Committee Chairs, where legislators gather to discuss policy issues there, and Verhofstadt’s influence has grown significantly. Tajani’s election will likely put committees firmly back in control when it comes to legislation.

Tajani will be under pressure to make sure the Parliament is more than just superficially involved, as many governments would prefer.

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