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23:33, 17 March 2018 Saturday
14:10, 17 January 2017 Tuesday

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Ex-Belgian PM ends bid for EU parliament presidency
Ex-Belgian PM ends bid for EU parliament presidency

Center-left group leader quits, leaves path open for Italian head of center-right European People’s Party

World Bulletin / News Desk

Former Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt withdrew from the race to be the next president of the European Parliament on Tuesday, his group said.

In a statement, his Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) said it would be supporting the nomination of Italian Antonio Tajani -- virtually securing the presidency for the center-right European People’s Party (EPP) candidate.

“This is a first important step in the construction of a pro-European coalition to reform and strengthen our union, which is absolutely necessary,” Verhofstadt said in the statement.

“With Trump, with Putin, with many other challenges Europe faces, it is key we cooperate to reform our union.”

Verhofstadt described the ALDE/EPP coalition as a “coalition of ideas to change the direction of the European Union” and invited all groups in the parliament to join.

EPP leader Manfred Weber said the partnership was based “on content and on reforms for Europe.”

The EU’s 751 lawmakers vote Tuesday for a president to succeed German socialist Martin Schulz for a two-and-a-half year term.

As the head of the parliament’s largest group, former air force officer Tajani, 63, was already favorite to take the post. He has been an MEP since 1994 and is an ally of former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

His closest challenger is fellow Italian Gianni Pittella, leader of the center-left Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D). The 58-year-old would need the support of other left-wing groups to win.

The other candidates are Romanian Laurentiu Rebega, vice-chairman of the far-right grouping; Piernicola Pedicini, a member of Italy’s anti-establishment Five Star Movement; Italian communist Eleonora Forenza; Belgian Eurosceptic Helga Stevens of the European Conservatives and Reformists; and Jean Lambert, a British Green Party member.

Among the issues facing the incoming president are negotiations over Britain’s exit from the EU as well as how to deal with terrorism, migration, Russia and relations with President-elect Donald Trump’s new administration in the U.S.

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