STRASBOURG (Reuters) - The European Union’s centre-right grouping on Tuesday elected Antonio Tajani as its candidate to replace socialist Martin Schulz as speaker of the European Parliament, a move that could increase calls for a reshuffle of other top EU jobs.
Tajani, a former EU commissioner, is a member of the rightist Forza Italia party and a close ally of former Italian prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi.
The socialists, the second biggest grouping, have said the election of a conservative president would unsettle the EU’s balance of power by giving the conservative European People’s Party (EPP) the presidencies of all three major EU bodies.
Luxembourg’s Jean-Claude Juncker runs the executive European Commission and Donald Tusk of Poland chairs EU summits as president of the European Council. Both are EPP members.
Tusk’s own mandate expires at the end of May but he is expected to want to stay on, despite opposition from the Polish government controlled by his arch-enemy Jaroslaw Kaczynski.
Juncker has three years left in office, although his position has been weakened by Britain’s vote to leave the EU and by a failed plan to manage last year’s migrant crisis with mandatory quotas of refugees for EU states.
As the candidate of the largest grouping in the chamber, Tajani looks likely to become the next speaker, although a win is not certain as the EPP has only 215 of 751 seats.
The socialists, ending a decade-long alliance with the EPP, have presented their own candidate for the presidency, Gianni Pittella, an Italian lawmaker close to Italy’s most recent ex-prime minister, Matteo Renzi.
Pittella said his aim was to reduce the appeal of growing anti-establishment movements that prosper by depicting moderate parties of all political hues as pursuing the same agenda.
But a spat between Europe’s two main political families may in fact give anti-system and anti-EU groups a boost.
A divided parliament may find it more difficult to pass legislation and such stalemate may strengthen eurosceptic parties such as Britain’s UKIP, France’s Front National and Italy’s Five-Star movement.
Editing by Louise Ireland