Guy Verhofstadt launches bid for EU parliament presidency

The EU parliament’s chief Brexit negotiator has launched a “passionate” bid to replace Germany’s Martin Schulz as the next president of the institution.

Former Belgium Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt, who is also president of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) group, declared that it is “time for change” on Friday.

“Most people know me as someone who has strong views. And that is true, I am passionate about politics. But I also know passion alone is not enough. Being prime minister of Belgium for nine years taught me that. Often the hard way,” the federalist said.

He added: “Like Belgium, Europe is a beautiful political project. A union that draws its strength from its diversity.

“In these insecure, turbulent times, when Europe is threatened by nationalists and populists of all kinds, we need visionaries, bridge builders and compromise seekers alike. And I want to be one of them. That is why I want to dedicate all my passion and all my skills to Europe and its parliament.”

But Verhofstadt, 63, is not favourite to succeed Schulz. Centre-right candidate Antonio Tajani, of the European People’s Party (EPP), and fellow Italian Gianni Pittella, of the Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (SD), are tipped as the front runners.

The politicians will need a majority of 376 votes to win the presidency. Verhofstadt’s ALDE has just 69 MEPs, while the S&Ds has 189 seats and the EPP has 216 MEPs.

The first round of voting will commence on 17 January, with just months before UK Prime Minister Theresa May plans to invoke Article 50 – the mechanism to split from the EU – and start Brexit talks.

France’s Michel Barnier, the EU Commission’s chief Brexit negotiator, will lead talks with the UK.

But Verhofstadt warned in December that the EU Parliament would negotiate directly with the UK if EU government leaders “do not take the European Parliament’s role seriously.”

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