Irish MEP Mairead McGuinness confirmed her intention to run for European Parliament president on Thursday after current president Martin Schulz announced he will not seek a third term at the helm of the EU institution.
Ms Mc Guinness, a former journalist who was first elected to the European Parliament in 2004, told The Irish Times that she had been considering running for the position for some months, but decided that now was the opportune time to declare her candidacy.
“I have both the experience and skills to run for this position. My experience of being a vice-president at the parliament, the work I’ve done over almost 10 years as an MEP has stood to me, and a number of approaches have been made to me over the last few months, asking me to run,” she said.
Mr Schulz’s successor will be appointed in mid-January for a 2½-year term. The position is widely expected to go to a candidate from the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP), the largest group in the European Parliament, following an agreement between the EPP and Mr Schulz’s S&D group in 2014 that the presidency should switch to an EPP candidate at the end of this term.
The departure from EU politics of Mr Schulz – a passionate defender of European unity and integration for many years – may also have knock-on effects on the leadership of the other main EU institutions. An election of an EPP president would mean that three centre-right politicians would head the three main EU institutions in Brussels.
Asked if they would consider their position in light of Mr Schulz's departure, following an EU-Ukraine summit in Brussels on Thursday, European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker and European Council president Donald Tusk declined to comment, instead wishing Mr Schulz well in his future endeavours in German politics.
Mr Juncker and Mr Schulz in particular were regarded as close allies, with Mr Juncker sparking criticism earlier this year from MEPs after he publicly backed the German MEP for a third term.
Speaking at a press conference in Strasbourg, the chair of the EPP, Manfred Weber, said that a nominee would now be selected through a “democratic process” within the EPP group in the coming weeks, promising to field a “convincing candidate”.
The only two candidates to have declared their interest are Ms McGuinness and veteran French politician Alain Lamassoure. Other possible candidates in the running are Italian MEP and former commissioner Antonio Tajani and former Slovenian prime minister Lojze Peterle. Mr Weber has also not ruled out running for the post.
But experienced Brussels-watchers in Berlin said that Mr Weber, the most prominent German candidate, is unlikely to go forward unless he stands a chance of getting the job. It is unlikely that one German would follow another as parliament president, according to one government source.
In addition, Mr Weber is a member of the Bavarian CSU, which has tormented chancellor Angela Merkel in the refugee crisis and is thus less popular with her CDU.
German sources in Brussels say that Mr Weber has his eye on another top job: head of the European Commission in 2019.
Interestingly, Mr Weber was seen to have given what some interpreted as his tacit backing to Ms McGuinness, the only woman running for parliament president.
“This question will play a big role,” he told Deutschlandfunk national radio. “The EPP is leading the way on the question of the need to bring in women to work in a gender-fair way.”
Mr Schulz, who was first elected to the European Parliament in 1994, is to run in the North-Rhine Westphalia district in next year’s German federal elections.