Schulz elected to run fractious EU Parliament
STRASBOURG, France: German Social-Democrat Martin Schulz was re-elected Tuesday to head the European Parliament following a May election that saw scores of anti-EU lawmakers enter the 751-seat assembly.
In a session marred by a euroskeptic protest, the German center-leftist won 409 votes for with 314 against or blank ballots.
“Great honor and responsibility to be the voice of the Parliament of EU citizens,” Schulz tweeted. “We’ll keep strengthening this house to the benefit of all.” Marking the start of the parliament’s five-year mandate, his re-election by secret ballot was the first order of business since Europe-wide elections on May 25 returned an unprecedented number of euroskeptic lawmakers.
As the session opened, dozens of euroskeptic members stood up and turned their backs on the EU flag as Beethoven’s “Ode To Joy,” the bloc’s anthem, rang across the chamber.
The flag and anthem “are both symbols of our servitude inside a political union which the British people reject,” said the deputy leader of the UK Independence Party (UKIP), Paul Nuttall, which outscored mainstream parties in Britain during the May election.
The vote brought a clear message that Europeans were increasingly fed up with the European Union, blaming the 28-nation bloc for painful austerity measures and a slow economy.
The weeks since have also seen a politically bitter dispute flare up over the role of the parliament.
Britain and others publicly slammed moves by Schulz and other leading lawmakers to give parliament the lead role in deciding who becomes the next president of the powerful European Commission.
In the end, parliament won the battle last week when EU leaders agreed to nominate Jean-Claude Juncker, the candidate for Europe’s conservative parties that emerged the victors on May 25.
Juncker’s nomination sparked a bruising campaign by Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron to block it on the grounds that the EU needs reform and not old faces.
Cameron sees in Juncker a dyed-in-the-wool European federalist who will not adopt reforms and whose pick by Parliament instead of by EU leaders, sets a dangerous institutional precedent.
Previously, EU leaders chose the commission head among themselves.
Juncker has yet to win a majority vote in parliament on July 16, where he has the official backing of the center-left and centrists in what is being compared to a German-style “grand coalition.” As a member of the second-placed Socialists, the 58-year-old Schulz won Tuesday’s bid for parliament president thanks to support from the conservatives and centrists.
“This is a big group stitch-up,” said UKIP leader Nigel Farage. “For them it’s damn democracy, it’s all about the carving up of power among the EU elite.” But Shulz did not get the full support of his allies, falling 70 short of a potential 479 votes.
Also running for the post was Britain’s Sajjad Karim, who picked up 101 votes for the conservative ECR group highly critical of current EU thinking.
The ECR group Spaniard Pablo Iglesias of the radical left GUE won 51 votes as did Austrian Ulrike Lunacek for the Greens.
The big unknown in this parliament will be the impact of the anti-EU forces, who roughly count for about 100 votes.
In a shock result, the far right National Front of Marine Le Pen won the European elections outright in France as did Farage’s UKIP party in Britain.
The goal since then has been to be build parliamentary groups, which require members from seven countries, and win valuable access to commission seats and millions of euros in funding.
Farage, against all odds, scrambled together a parliamentary group comsisting mainly of UKIP’s 48 lawmakers and members of Italy’s populist Five Star movement.
Le Pen, with whom Farage refuses all ties, missed the June 23 deadline to form a group, though she can still do so later in the session.