MEPs meeting in Strasbourg have elected Italian socialist David-Maria Sassoli as parliament president, completing a key element of EU leaders’ complex “top jobs” deal.
The former journalist, who is a member of the Partito Democratico, the second largest party in the S&D (Socialists and Democrats) grouping, takes over from fellow Italian Antonio Tajani.
EU leaders on Tuesday night urged MEPs to support the balanced package. As part of the leaders' deal, Mr Sassoli is expected to share the five-year term with the centre-right EPP's Manfred Weber, who was rejected as European Commission president at the Brussels summit in favour of German defence minister Ursula von der Leyen.
The latter’s ratification by MEPs is expected to take place in the week of July 15th.
MEPs from the main parliamentary blocs, the socialist S&D, liberal Renew Europe (RE), and the EPP, were under pressure from national leaders to play their part in seeing through the deal brokered after three days of talks in Brussels which balanced party, gender and geographical representation in the top institutional positions.
In addition to Ms Von der Leyen (EPP) as commission president, Belgium's Charles Michel (RE) was nominated as EU Council president, France's Christine Lagarde as president of the European Central Bank, while Spain's Josep Borrell (S&D) will be high representative for foreign affairs and security.
Mr Sassoli, who had backing from the EPP and RE, faced off against German Green MEP Ska Keller, whose grouping in parliament made significant gains in elections in May.
Spain's Sira Rego ran on behalf of the United Left, while the European Conservatives and Reformists put forward Czech lawmaker Jan Zahradil.
Mr Sassoli won a clear majority of 345 votes in the second round of balloting. Mr Zahradil won 160 votes and Ms Keller 119.
In his remarks to MEPs before the vote, Mr Sassoli said he had decided to run because “Europe will be stronger only with a parliament which plays a more important role”.
The four top jobs whose nominations were proposed by the summit this week all go through different processes of ratification. The parliament gets to “elect” or reject by simple majority the EU Council’s nominee for commission presidency, Ms von der Leyen – if rejected, then the EU Council will have to try again.
Her nomination at the council was achieved by consensus, with only the Germans abstaining for reasons of internal coalition politics. To preserve unity, council president Donald Tusk did everything he could to avoid a vote, although the rules do provide for a decision by qualified majority vote.
The council presidency, Mr Michel, is in the gift of leaders and so does not need to be ratified.
The nomination of president of the ECB, Ms Lagarde, must go through a meeting of finance ministers (Ecofin) by unanimity, and then get the opinion of the board of the ECB.
The high representative for foreign policy, Mr Borrell, who attends council meetings, is also a member of the new commission and will face parliamentary hearings like all commission nominees. MEPs then vote on the whole commission as a block.
The parliament also elected 14 vice-presidents on Wednesday, including Ireland’s Mairéad McGuinness, who won the support of 618 MEPs and retained her status as first vice-president.