Antonio Tajani – Newly elected President of the European Parliament

 

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Antonio Tajani is a member of the European People’s Party (EPP) and the  new President of the European Parliament. Most recently he served as one of the fourteen vice-presidents of the European Parliament.

Tajani has built a long-standing career within the EP, working as an MEP between 1994 and 2008. Throughout his nearly 18 years of Parliamentary activity he was a member of many Committees, including: Foreign Affairs, Constitutional Affairs, Transport and Tourism, Energy, Fisheries and Security and Defence.

Within the current EP mandate, Tajani was appointed Rapporteur on the proposed Payment Services Directive (PSD2), which was adopted in October 2015.  Since 2002, he has held the position of European People’s Party (EPP) Vice-Chair.

Tajani was previously Vice-President of the European Commission, where he was Commissioner in charge of the Transport portfolio (May 2008 to February 2010) and Commissioner for Industry and Entrepreneurship (February 2010 to July 2014).

A highlight from Tajani’s career is his “Mission for Growth”, a programme supporting European enterprises from fast growing emerging markets. He drove the implementation of the new EU industrial policy in 2012 and the EU Entrepreneurship Action Plan in 2013. He also supported the combination of EU research and innovation support into one single programme, now referred to as Horizon 2020.

His work as Commissioner for Industry came into the headlines in the context of the Dieselgate scandal in 2015, when Tajani was accused of ignoring warnings that car manufacturers could be using motor vehicle hardware (defeat devices) to cheat emissions tests.

Tajani is recognised as a supporter of businesses who believes it is necessary to work in favour of the real economy and strengthen European SMEs and industries.

In his first remarks, Tajani promised to be a different President than Schulz; more conciliatory in style. This should also have an impact on the EP’s interaction with Member States. Some MEPs are concerned that this could also mean a weakening of the Parliament’s standing. Martin Schulz as President was credited for helping gain visibility of the European Parliament and was increasingly seen as an important player in the institutional triangle.

THE NEW BALANCE OF POWER

The victory of Tajani may seem a continuation of the status quo that a member of one of the two largest parties – the EPP or the S&D – holds the Presidency. However, this election saw the end of the ‘grand coalition’ deal that the EPP and S&D (and ALDE) struck after the 2014 elections. This agreement stated that the S&D would hold the EP Presidency in the first half of the mandate and the EPP in the second. For various reasons, S&D and ALDE were no longer bound by this agreement and decided to field their own candidates – their respective leaders Pitella and Verhofstadt. What was supposed to be more or less a done deal, suddenly became a full-blown election contest. A last minute agreement between the EPP and ALDE on the day of the election (and the withdrawal of Verhofstadt’s candidacy) appeared to secure Tajani’s victory. In the end, he had to rely on the support of both the ALDE and the more conservative and populist ECR group to clinch the Presidency.

The end of the grand coalition with the S&D will have significant consequences for the remainder of the EP’s term. It means that it will be much harder to forge majorities on important files. This will play out differently in each Committee and for each file, but it is likely that different ad-hoc majorities involving different groups will have to be found for each important vote. This will make the (EP) legislative process (even) more complex and certainly more unpredictable. It will also give more influence to smaller groups and large national delegations which could become the decisive factor in many files.

It will be President Tajani’s role to ensure that the political groups maintain a decent level of cooperation so that majorities can be found within a reasonable time-frame and political deadlocks are avoided as much as possible. This is key for the EP’s credibility vis-à-vis the other EU institutions and, ultimately, its power to influence decisions.  The most important vote of his mandate will be on the Brexit agreement and Tajani will face the challenging task to ensure that the EP is able to deliver a view supported by a majority of the House.

Whether he likes it or not, Brexit will determine much, if not all of his Presidency. He will not only have to deal with the EP’s vote of consent (or not) on the withdrawal agreement itself, but will also have to prepare the EP for the departure of 73 UK MEPs, for the changes to the EP’s internal organisation (and budget!) that this will require, as well as for the organisation of the 2019 elections.

Here lies Tajani’s real challenge:  how to reconcile a divided EP, an important legislative agenda and Brexit. He clearly has his work cut-out for him.

BEFORE BRUSSELS

Born in Rome on 4 August 1953, Antonio Tajani is a politician from the centre-right. He holds a Law degree from La Sapienza University in Rome.

After completing his studies and training at the Florence Air Warfare School (Scuola di Guerra Aerea) he began working as an Air Defence Controller at the 33rd Air Force Radar Centre. He then became Head of the Operations Room, monitoring Italian and European civil and military air traffic.

In 1983 he embarked on a journalism career,  during which, he held numerous roles, including: Editor of Parliamentary Affairs for the weekly publication “Il Settimanale”; Rai Radio 1 news presenter; and, Head of the Rome Editorial Office for “Il Giornale” newspaper. He also worked as special envoy to Lebanon, the Soviet Union and Somalia.

Despite his longstanding EU professional experience, Tajani’s primary focus has always been Italian politics. In 1994 he became co-founder of Forza Italia, Silvio Berlusconi’s first political party. From 1994-95 – during Berlusconi’s first government – Tajani was spokesman for the Prime Minister. Prior to working at the European Parliament, in 1994 Tajani was offered a position as MP by Silvio Berlusconi, but his party, Forza Italia was excluded from the electoral college for some anomalies and Tajani could not be elected. This is why Berlusconi suggested that he run for the European Parliament elections.

In 1996 he tried to make a return to Italian politics and ran for deputy in the Alatri college. However, he was defeated by a representative of the L’Ulivo, the Olive Tree party (centre-left). In 2001 he was defeated by Walter Veltroni in the race to become Mayor of Rome.

OTHER BACKGROUND

  • Tajani is known to rely extensively on his advisors and being part of his team is a sought after position.
  • Tajani is likely to favourably view Italian interests.
  • Tajani is married and has two children. He is fluent in Italian, Spanish and French and has a basic knowledge of English.

 

Joost Koomen is Senior Director and Giulia Forgnone is Consultant at FTI Consulting in Brussels.

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