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For Tajani, the European Parliament’s top job is a springboard to leading Italy

Antonio Tajani the day of his election as president of the European Parliament [personal archive]

Antonio Tajani is in search of a second mandate as president of the European Parliament, and announced to be candidate to succeed himself. After months of speculations, the vice-president of Forza Italia has finally clarified his intentions. “Yes, I am a candidate”, he revealed on Wednesday (23 January) speaking to the Italian press in Brussels.

“I decided to run precisely because we need a more balanced Europe, with a strong Italian presence, and we need to create a climate of greater cooperation that can bring benefit to the entire Europe, including sixty million Italian citizens”.

Tajani, 25 years spent in Brussels

The current president of the European Parliament has a good CV for the top job at the directly-elected EU institution. He has a long European career. Tajani has served as MEP between 1994 and 2008, before moving to the European Commission first as vice president and commissioner for Transport and then as vice president with the Industry portfolio. Then he returned to Parliament. There was first vice-president  and then, as a result of the political agreement between the EPP and the S&D groups, was elected at the head of the institution.

The Italian is also vice-president of the European Popular Party, and as in his EPP capacity was member of the European Convention that drafted the European Constitution project in the early 2000s. His pro-European commitment is beyond any doubt, and at EU level his work has been appreciated and recognised by many. Tajani speaks fluently three foreign languages (English, French and Spanish), and makes good use of his linguistic skills.

A more difficult compromise

Since top jobs are essentially political, any eventual second term for Tajani would be result of a political agreement. Moreover, it would not be a precedent if he would have a second mandate, since his predecessor, the German social-democrat Martin Schulz, led the European Parliament twice in row. But that was possible because of an EPP-S&D pact, resulting from the results of the previous European elections.

The new circumstances could be different. With the anti-European forces on the rise, one way is to imagine a pro-European alliance, and Tajani in theory could be a consensus candidate. But the consensus will be more difficult this time. According to opinion polls, an EPP-S&D grand coalition could be no longer able to secure a majority against the anti-European forces. A wider coalition with Liberals (ALDE) on board, and possibly the Greens, would mean that these forces have become kingmakers. Why would they elect as king Tajani?

Mario Draghi’s top job at the European Central Bank can play a role in this political puzzle. Late this year Draghi will end his mandate as president of the ECB, paving the way for an Italian at head of another European institution. This plays in Tajani’s favour.

The main question mark is linked to Tajani’s national party, Forza Italia. The support for Berlusconi’s force, of which Tajani was co-founder, is at its all-times low. The party still is in the position of electing MEPs at the next May elections, but they will be much less than the current 10. The political weight of Forza Italia will be reduced, as likely its influence.

In this tweet Tajani called The League to split from the Five Star Movement and create new center-right coalition with Forza Italia

Opposition to the government in Rome

Tajani claimed to have “that vision of European politics that Italy should have”. His personal idea, he stressed, “do not coincide with the European policy of this government and is not even the politics of a radical-chic resemblance having appeal to certain circles of the Democratic Party”.

It’s clear that Tajani banks in the understanding of his European colleagues that Italy needs somebody like him, and that as President of the European Parliament again, he will have the necessary prominence to achieve this goal. Which would be in the interest of the EU too. That’s a serious argument. But Tajani didn’t say anything like that to the journalists, the last paragraph is just journalistic intuition…

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