Italian centre-left lawmaker David Sassoli is the favourite to become president of the European Parliament on Wednesday, in an election that help clear the way for the assembly to endorse Germany's Ursula Von der Leyen as head of the EU executive. The parliament is set to elect its speaker for the next two-and-half years, completing the round of appointments to the top five EU posts that on Tuesday propelled International Monetary Fund chair Christine Lagarde to the helm of the European Central Bank and German Defence Minister Von der Leyen to the presidency of the European Commission.
Von der Leyen will, however, need to be confirmed in her new job by an absolute majority of the 751 lawmakers of the chamber in a vote due in two weeks. The socialist grouping, the second largest in the chamber, rejected the appointments made by EU leaders on Tuesday.
However, parliament officials said the election of Italian lawmaker Sassoli as president of the chamber could smooth their opposition to Von der Leyen. EU leaders had pushed for the election of Bulgaria's Sergei Stanishev as the chamber's speaker, but he was rejected by a majority of socialists and conservative deputies. The election of a figure chosen by the parliament could reconcile the socialists with the EU leaders' view, officials said.
On paper, Sassoli should have the backing of most socialists, conservatives and liberals, the three largest groupings in the parliament, which together can guarantee a comfortable majority for his election, although the ballot is secret and some lawmakers may prefer to vote along national lines. Socialists from eastern Europe in particular favour other candidates and it is not clear whether they will back Sassoli.
While a gender balance has been maintained in choosing the EU's top posts, with two appointed out of four top nominations, the East-West balance has been neglected, with no eastern European designated for a top position. The presidency of the EU parliament is regularly split into two 2-1/2-year terms. Under the deal reached by EU leaders in Brussels, and backed by conservatives, the centre-right will have the president of the parliament in the second half of the five-year legislature.
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