What do David Sassoli and Fabio Massimo Castaldo have in common? Apparently just the fact they are both Italian politicians. But there is much more. They both made the history of Italy in the European Parliament, emerging as the real winners of the first plenary sitting of the new European legislature. The directly elected EU institution held its first meeting after the European elections, and there was no shortage of surprises.
Sassoli, a prominent member of the Democratic Party (PD), was elected as the new President of the European Parliament for the first half of the legislature. He is the first Italian from the European socialist group (S&D) to get this prestigious mandate. Castaldo, the top figure of the Five Star Movement (M5S), was able to be re-elected vice-president of the European Parliament as non-attached member. It is the first time ever that a MEP without a group gets such top job.
Sassoli the VIIth
For the seventh time there will be an Italian at the head of the European Parliament. This long tradition started in May 1954, when Alcide de Gasperi chaired the Common Assembly, as the institution was called at that time. Then De Gasperi, a Christian-democrat, died three months later, and he was replaced by Giuseppe Pella, another Christian-democrat, until November 1956. From March 1962 to March 1964 it was the liberal Gaetano Martino to lead the newly named Appointed Parliament. Seven years later, in March 1969, the Christian-democrat Mario Scelba became the fourth Italian to occupy the most important seat.
Scelba played a very important role in promoting democracy and rule of law in Italy, as in 1952 he was in the front-line of the anti-fascist legislation discussed and approved in the Italian Republic. The so-called “Scelba law” punishes any attempt to organise groups referring to Mussolinian ideology.
The fifth president of the EU Parliament was Emilio Colombo, once again a Christian-democrat. He remained in power from May 1977 to July 1979. After Colombo history zooms to modern days. Antonio Tajani (EPP), has been president of the European Parliament until 3 July 2019, replaced by Sassoli.
Migration and NGOs, Sassoli to defy government and populists
The newly elected president of the European Parliament has in his agenda the Dublin regulation reform. It sounds like a big challenge for the member states, so far unwilling to accept a genuine automatic relocation mechanism. He highlighted migration as a matter of priority, in his first appearance to the press after his appointment.
He also said that he wants to make the European Parliaments the house of the all European citizens. It means “open door to the civil society, composed by people, lobbies and Non-Governmental Organizations”. For NGOs, he promised, “the dialogue will be boosted”. This one sounds as an open confrontation with the Italian government and one of the ruling parties, Matteo Salvini’s The League. Salvini ordered the arrest of Carola Rackete, the captain of a vessel carrying asylum seekers, because she disembarked them despite threats not to do so.
Castaldo, the knight of the quest
Outgoing vice-president of the European Parliament, Fabio Massimo Castaldo, was looking for a confirmation and he got it. His personal adventure is remarkable. Nobody in the history of the European Parliament was able to be nominated as non-attached, so a precedent has been created.
According to the regulation, candidates can be proposed by a political group or by a group of at least 38 MEPs. Castaldo first found the MEPs required, then found the votes needed. He did it using the old, traditional, way of printing and distributing fliers. It may sound weird for a person of a political party, the Five Star Movement, 100% devoted to the Internet and its social platform. But he succeeded.
It must be stressed that the pro-European forces decided to build up a “quarantine line” against the eurosceptics and sovereignists. To run for the last available seat were the Conservatives (ECR), where the Polish ruling party PiS sits, Identity and democracy (ID), the group of Marine Le Pen and Matteo Salvini, and Castaldo. The Plenary rewarded the non-attached member. For him and the Movement, this was a very sweet victory.