In the famous novel of middle XX century, “The Leopard”, Italian novelist Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa chronicled the changes in Sicilian life and society during the Risorgimento. A well-known sentence reads,”everything needs to change, so everything can stay the same”. The novelist meant that in Sicilian society, the old élite had found a way to rearrange themselves in the new social order to keep themselves in power. The election of Antonio Tajani as President of the European Parliament is also indicative of this phenomenon.
The Italian former EU Commissioner, and right hand of former Italian PM Silvio Berlusconi, has been elected thanks to a coalition between the EPP and the Liberals signed on the same day of the election. This coalition replaces the former alliance between the EPP and the Socialists broken by the candidacy of S&D leader Gianni Pittella to the EP Presidency. Now as in 2014, the election of the President of the European Parliament has been the result of a political agreement forged behind closed doors. It may be argued that this is how democracy works; in other words politicians find a deal, the majority finds a common candidate and then vote for him or her. The problem with this, however, is that the European Parliament presents itself as, or at least pretends to be the only EU institution which fully represents the European people in Brussels. Therefore the president of such an institution should be a man or a women able to engage directly with the people, a person not only embodying a political agreement but also an emphatic connection with European citizens.
It is unlikely that Antonio Tajani will prove to be such a man. Tajani does have a wealth of experience of the European institutions. In 1994 Tajani was elected MEP, and later re-elected in 1999 and 2004. On 8 May 2008, he was appointed as Italy’s EU Commissioner and received the Commissioner for Transport portfolio. In 2009 he was reappointed as a member of Italian nationality of the second Barroso Commission, as European Commissioner for Industry and Entrepreneurship. In July 2014 he was elected again as MEP and as one of the Vice-Presidents of the European Parliament. His experience within the EU institutions is both his main asset and main problem. The populists movements all across Europe threaten the EU by alleging and emphasising that it lacks proper connection with the people. The European Parliament is vulnerable to this accusation in its role as a bridge between its people and its institutions. This is the reason why the leader of the EP should have more experience on the ground, between associations, movements and people than political pedigree.
Yet the EPP-Alde agreement nevertheless contains some very interesting points. First of all is “the possibility of launching a Convention on the future of the European Union”. The problem here is that all the main European political leaders are used to talking about a deep change in the EU treaties but do nothing to implement such change, primarily because the domestic politics in their home countries prevents them from doing so effectively. The European Parliament under such a leadership is unlikely to try to break this political equilibrium because this leadership is exactly based on this political equilibrium. All that can really be expected in the next two and a half years is a lot of talks about an eventual EU convention, political games and the same Brussels well-known business as usual.