European Parliament chooses new President, completing top EU jobs

STRASBOURG, France (AFP) – The European Parliament yesterday elected an Italian social democrat as its new President, filling the final top European Union (EU) job a day after Brussels named two women to key posts for the first time.

Italy’s David Sassoli, a 63-year-old former journalist, won the absolute majority of ballots he needed at the second round of voting, seeing off German Green Ska Keller, far-left Spaniard Sira Rego and Czech conservative Jan Zahradil.

The new Members of European Parliaments (MEPs) elected in May’s European polls took office on Tuesday during a brief inaugural session before voting by secret ballot to choose Sassoli as successor to Antonio Tajani, a conservative from Italy.

The 751-seat Parliament – based in Strasbourg, France – is more fragmented than ever after the May election saw solid gains by the liberals and Greens as well as the far right and eurosceptics.

The vote for President completes the roster of the EU’s five most important jobs, with the others settled on Tuesday at the end of three days of negotiation among the EU’s 28 national leaders in Brussels.

Former European Parliament President Antonio Tajani (L) with newly-elected President of the European Parliament David-Maria Sassoli during the first plenary session of the newly elected European Assembly in Strasbourg, eastern France. – AFP

Sassoli’s election to a two-and-a-half year term as Parliament President – effectively the Speaker of the Chamber – is a sought-after post by the major European political families, though less coveted than that of President of the European Commission or European Central Bank (ECB).

The EU leaders on Tuesday nominated German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen as Commission Chief and IMF Chief Christine Lagarde to head the ECB, though their appointments still need confirmation.

The national leaders also suggested that the chamber’s presidency should be shared for the next five years by the Socialists and Tajani’s centre-right EPP. Sassoli’s election completes the first part of this, but it remains unclear whether he will make way in due course.

Von der Leyen visited Parliament to court MEPs, whose approval is needed to confirm her position as Commission Chief.

Germany’s Manfred Weber, head of the EPP group, took note of the outcome of the Brussels summit by renouncing a run for Parliament head, after having already thrown in the towel in the race for the Commission’s presidency.