Lead Brexit negotiator for the European Parliament – Guy Verhofstadt, who was one of the running candidates for President of the European Union, pulled out of the presidential race in the name of a pro-European coalition. Following the formation of an agreement between the right-wing European People’s Party (EPP) and the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe Group (ALDE), which effectively pushed Antonio Tajani to the presidency, Mr. Verhofstadt decided to drop out of the race.
The former prime minister of Belgium, political leader of ALDE, and current Chairperson of EIPA’s Board announced his candidacy for the European Parliament’s presidential elections in January with which he aimed at building “a broad coalition of all pro-European forces that will put the interests of European citizens first.” Mr. Verhofstadt positioned himself as able to “bridge the gap between right and left… Somebody who can actually win.” (‘The Guardian’ 2017)
Earlier in December, Liberal leaders had already expressed their support for the liberal candidate as potential President of the European Parliament: “The European Parliament is an honourable institution that deserves to be headed by someone who combines vision with extensive experience and the ability to build bridges across political divides. With Guy Verhofstadt, we have an excellent candidate who has these qualities.” (‘Aldeparty.eu’ 2017)
However, speaking before a plenary hearing on the day of the elections, the outgoing president Martin Schulz announced Verhofstadt’s withdrawal from the race: “Guy Verhofstadt just a few moments ago told me that the candidacy he had sent in was withdrawn.” In the wake of a cooperation agreement between EPP and ALDE, which supported the EPP candidate – Antonio Tajani, Mr. Verhofstadt (ALDE) decided to pull out of the European Parliament’s presidential race.
On the election day, the former Belgian prime minister tweeted: “ALDE and EPP have laid the foundation of a new coalition to move Europe forward. The agreement is open to all other pro-European groups.”
In a letter to other MEPs, the ALDE leader explained why he had decided to withdraw his candidacy:
“The last couple of weeks it has become clear that the politics in this house are hugely fragmented. I am convinced that if this situation continues, the European Parliament will end up weakened while the European citizens expect us to work together and find solutions for the numerous crises that threaten our continent. This is why my Group has concluded an agreement with the EPP,” Verhofstadt wrote.
He highlighted that this was a first and crucial step to reform and strengthen the EU.
In a statement, Mr Verhofstadt said: “With Trump, with Vladimir Putin, with many other challenges Europe faces, it is key we cooperate to reform our Union. This coalition plan is open to all pro-European groups. It is a coalition of ideas. To change the direction the European Union is heading.”
On 17 January the Parliament elected Antonio Tajani (EPP, Italy) who won with 351 votes against Gianni Pittella (S&D, Italy) who secured 282 votes.
In exchange for Verhofstadt’s endorsement of Tajani, the liberals will gain control of the Conference of Committee Chairs, politico.eu reported.